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Sensory Issues & the Autism Spectrum

Sat, 21st January 2012, Oxford

The weather was kind to us on Saturday 21st January 2012 – a lovely day dawned as we unloaded our van and set up for another fabulous event at Headington School Theatre.  Our topic this time was ‘Sensory Issues & Autism – Research & Reality’

Our audience arrived buzzing with excitement – we had a full house of 240 people (and a big waiting list for cancellations!) many having travelled long distances to be with us.  They came from Germany, Liverpool, Leicester, Isle of Wight and many other places to hear about this important and fascinating topic from a top researcher and from our very own Autism Oxford speakers, all on the autism spectrum.

Kathy Erangey, founder of Autism Oxford, eloquently welcomed everyone and introduced Jonas Torrance, from Oxfordshire’s Service for Autism, as the Compere for the afternoon.

Liz Pellicano was our first speaker and she presented an overview of what is known from a research perspective about sensory issues and autism.  She also raised some thoughtful questions about what is not yet known and highlighted the need for more research, particularly covering adult sensory experiences and how they may differ from those in childhood.

Our second speaker was Paul Isaacs, who has gone from strength to strength since his first public speech at our event in January 2010 – ‘The Inside Story’.  Since that first performance, he has been enthralling audiences at Autism Oxford events and Training Sessions and regularly fulfils speaker bookings for Autism Oxford at lots of different organisations. 

Paul told us about how he is affected by Sensory Issues in everyday life, giving graphic descriptions of how he struggles to make sense of the information that his senses are sending to his brain.  So, for example, he is not able to see things as a whole, seeing only part of an object, making it very difficult to assess his environment.  Paul gave a brilliant portrayal of a trip on the London Underground which really highlighted how stressful and challenging such an outing can be.  The astonishing and moving side to this is that he looks perfectly capable and in control on the outside, whilst inside there is a constant turmoil as he tries to make sense of the world and, at the same time, cover up how he is feeling. 
Next up was Faye Brown, giving her first public speech on autism.  Faye overcame a huge amount of anxiety to give her talk, and to make it possible, she needed to sit down and to read it out.  She was heartrendingly honest and open about her sensory experiences and her speech was all the more powerful for the inclusion of her son’s sensory issues and the strategies she has used to help him cope.

Richard Charlick was also giving his first public speech for us, and he also chose to sit.  He gave an insightful account of his hyper and hypo-sensitivities and how his work life in particular has been affected. 

Richard Maguire is a seasoned speaker who has worked for many years with autistic and learning disabled adults.  He gave a very useful and interesting presentation on ‘The Pyramid of Learning’ – pyramid showing the graduated steps of learning process from touching through to academic learning.  The learning processes of autistic people are often severely hampered by the sensory issues they experience – and Richard illustrated this brilliantly.

Another new speaker, NT acupuncturist Andy Roscoe, spoke next.  He talked about the concept of ‘Heart’ which is part of Eastern medicine.  The Heart governs the blood and houses the mind, therefore most problems of the Heart involve the blood and mind.  A difficult concept to convey in ten minutes, but Andy spoke very well.

Our last speaker was another favourite of our audiences, Catherine Green.  She spoke about the particular sensory issues she lived with as a child, then went on to talk about which remain and which she has overcome with maturity – another excellent performance.

Our Q & A session brought forth the usual avalanche of questions, far too many to cover in the time available!  All of our speakers answered brilliantly – sometimes we think maybe we should just have Qs & As for a whole event – what do our regular audience members think of that idea?

What our audience said:

Fantastic afternoon!
Very good value ....
Very useful and informative day
Variety of interesting speakers
Well done Autism Oxford!
Well worth driving down from Yorkshire
Really worth coming to
Fab pre-conference organisation with info and handouts
Excellent organisation
Very thought provoking day
Will look at my son completely differently now!
Organise more please
I am an ASD teacher and this has helped me so much to understand my pupils grin

“The staff who came to the Sensory Issues event were still raving about it two weeks later when I went into the school!! Said it was the best course they’d ever been on and already seen the impact in school as staff were more aware of the sensory needs of pupils!  How fantastic is that!”

Rachael Cooper
Specialist Advisory Teacher
Communication and Interaction Support Services
SEN Support Services (SENSS)

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