An introduction to the webinar panellists and presenters
Please email your questions for the panellists to firstname.lastname@example.org no later than 22nd April 2021.
Elkie Kammer: Learning Support Teacher
Elkie works as a Learning Support Teacher in Inverness. She grew up in Germany and Ireland and has been living in Scotland for the past 30 years. Elkie left school at 15 due to mental illness and was subsequently treated for OCD and psychotic episodes, but it took another 20 years before she received a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome. By then she was a teacher and studying for a MEd Inclusive Practice. She is also a published author and one of the founders of the Autism Rights Group Highland (ARGH), a collective advocacy group run by and for autistic adults.
- Mountaineering / Nature / Working on my croft
- Christian Spirituality
- Classical Music (playing my cello and flute, preferably with others)
- Noise (any kind of machinery, engines, rock music)
- Crowds of people (not likely during current lockdown!)
- Computers! Their constantly changing language and icons and breakdowns and errors drive me mad!
Elkie invites questions about neurodiverse teachers and why they should be valued and supported as part of an inclusive school environment.
Jade Pitchford Waters: Autism Hub Co-ordinator
Jade Pitchford-Waters is a 26-year-old mixed-race woman. She has diagnoses of Autism, Dyslexia and Dyspraxia. Jade has a Postgraduate Certificate in Special and Inclusive Education from the University of Nottingham and for five years worked within the education sector in various roles including learning support, teaching and management. She now works in social care as an Autism Hub co-ordinator. Jade is passionate about disability rights, equity, equality and inclusion and regularly uses her social media platforms as well as her job role to advocate on topics such as Autism, assistance dogs, disability rights and mental health.
Jade is a member of the webinar panel and will be happy to answer questions on autism, gender and race issues in relation to schools.
Madge Woollard: Peripatetic Music Teacher
Madge has run her own business teaching piano in schools and privately since 1994. She is a graduate of Cambridge University with a BA Hons degree in music and has a PGCE in primary education. She was diagnosed autistic in 2016 at the age of 44. In 2019 she was awarded an Autism-Friendly Business Award for her work teaching autistic students. She lives in Sheffield with her wife, who is also late-diagnosed autistic. She is on Twitter @funkiepiano
· My theatre group
· Vegan cookery
· Strong perfumes
· Bigoted people
Madge invites questions about being autistic, a peripatetic teacher and LGBTQ, and how this has led to her marginalisation yet also brought benefits. Madge is on Twitter @funkiepiano
Alan Morrison, a member of the ASSP team, will also be a panel member. You can read his bio on the Team page of this website. Alan will be happy to answer questions on any aspect of being an autistic teacher. He is on Twitter @morph_morphious
Venessa Bobb: Founder of A2ndVoice
Venessa Bobb is a founder of A2ndvoice, and the mother of three young people aged 15, 18, 20. The youngest two have diagnoses of Autism and ADHD, and her oldest has Moderate Language Difficulties. Venessa is also a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group of Autism Advisory Group.
A2ndvoice CIC are a non-for-profit organisation running various projects and events focusing on the needs of autistic people and their families. We specialise in running black African, black Caribbean, Asian and minority ethnic community programmes looking at cultural perspective and values.
Venessa is on Twitter @A2ndvoice
Claire O’Neill: deputy Principal
Claire is a teaching Deputy Principal, teaching autistic pupils. She also works as a teacher-educator with two National Teacher Professional Support agencies. Claire is a qualified coach and coaches neurodivergent trainees. Claire holds a 1st Class Honours Postgraduate Diploma in Special Education and Educational Leadership and an M.Ed. in Applied Linguistics. She currently has a scholarship to study for an M. Ed. in Autism Studies. Claire lives with her autistic husband and two autistic children.
Claire is on Twitter @claruineill
Pete Wharmby: Writer, speaker and advocate
Pete Wharmby is a teacher of thirteen years’ experience who is now working in online tutoring and autism advocacy. He was diagnosed with autism in 2017 at the age of 34 and since then has worked hard to promote more accurate and positive information about autism to the general population. He is a keen writer, artist and musician and is currently writing two books, the first of which will be published in May 2022.
Pete is on Twitter @commaficionado
Rebecca Wood, the Principal Investigator of the ASSP, will also be presenting at the webinar. She will discuss the project, summarise some of our key research findings and describe the next steps of the ASSP. You can read her bio on the Team page of this website. Rebecca is on Twitter @thewoodbug
The Story Behind ASSP: Dr Becky Wood
For a number of years now, I have been researching different aspects of the educational inclusion of autistic children and young people in the UK and sometimes beyond. And if you know anything about this subject, it will not surprise you to learn that the picture is sometimes pretty bleak. In school, sensory issues (especially noise), a different approach to learning, a lack of support and an insufficient understanding of autism can all create numerous difficulties for autistic children and young people. As a result, they can experience high levels of both internal and external educational exclusion. In addition, the outcomes of autistic children, in terms of qualifications, economic security and health and well-being, are quite poor.
What has research has shown too is that even if autistic children have particular difficulties, such as in relation to speech, the problems they experience can be external to them. On the topic of communication alone, for example, I found from my own research that the autistic children were sometimes expressing themselves very clearly in various ways, but were sometimes ignored or not listened to because their views didn’t align with the adults’ intentions. In these ways, there seemed to be something of a disconnect between the pervading view that autistic children struggle in school because of autism-related difficulties, and the simple fact that their ways of expressing themselves are not always recognised.
And so in all of this, I felt there was a missing link. As a former teacher myself, it made me wonder about the various members of staff in schools and if we ever consider that some of them are autistic too. Because if autistic children have autistic teachers, we have to question whether these problems of disconnections and misunderstandings might be reduced. In fact, although there is a great deal of research into autistic children in schools, and a reasonable amount of research into autism and employment, there is very little indeed on autistic teachers and other school staff.
Another important aspect is to do with representation, and the fact that all children have the right to see themselves reflected in the ethos and culture of schools, in the curriculum choices, in the artwork on the walls, in projects and of course, in their teachers. There is so much attention on interventions in schools and trying to squeeze autistic children into an educational system and culture that was never designed for them. Could it be, that for all of this time, we have been looking in the wrong direction, and that rather than thinking only about autistic children in schools, we need to think about the people who teach them? Ultimately, it seems evident that if we truly want to facilitate the educational inclusion of a diversity of children in schools, then we need to make sure we are doing everything we can to ensure diversity amongst teachers and other people who work in schools. It does seem somewhat illogical to expect one without the other.
So these were the thoughts that led to the birth of this project, where the focus is on the views, experiences and needs of autistic staff in the UK, which I developed with the help of my former mentor and current Co-Investigator Professor Francesca Happé of King’s College London. We have already found, from the first phase of the project, that autistic school staff can experience numerous difficulties not of their own making, sometimes similar to those endured by autistic pupils. But we also found there were many positives too, and so our plan is to build on these to support and encourage autistic school staff now and in the future through our project.