• Amy Godfrey

Autism Early Support: All about our chosen charity

Updated: May 18, 2021

Autism Early Support is an incredible specialist nursery.

Tristan - our youngest son - attended Autism Early Support's Circle Centre (then called Puzzle Centre) from September 2018 to July 2019.

Those months had an incredible impact on him.

The previous year Tristan attended a wonderful mainstream preschool. I spoke with the staff there at length before they admitted him to let them know about his developmental delays and his suspected diagnosis (because at that time he was still undiagnosed). The head of school was incredibly kind and smart and accommodating and said she and her team were eager to welcome him and see how he got on with them.

So he started there and he was happy! When he was playing outside or doing his own thing inside. As soon as anything was asked of him he had a really hard time. He would throw himself to the floor, or hide, or try to run away. He would shout and throw toys around; not intentionally AT anyone but clearly that wasn't safe around the other little children, some of whom were only 2 years old. Or indeed the staff. Who were amazing with him; so kind and determined to do the best for him they possibly could. They spoke with me every day about how he was and how he'd got on, discussing with me many ideas for things to try with him to help him access the education more fully. We were still waiting at this time to have an Speech and Language assessment and be allocated a special education speech and language therapist as well so the school was trying to use what they knew and work with me to implement some SALT. But despite all our best efforts he struggled; with the expectations, with his social and play skills, with communicating (he was barely verbal at this point and didn't use PECs much or any signs) with following instructions, with the curriculum; everything really. He did really enjoy preschool and after a couple of months he was very eager to play with his peers but he couldn't quite navigate how to do it safely and cooperatively. And eventually we had to accept their professional limitations being a mainstream school, and we decided together that we should try to get him some hours at a specialist nursery to compliment his mainstream preschool days.

I spoke to AES Circle Centre and they agreed to come and visit Tristan at his preschool and see if he would be a good fit for their nursery. The visit went very well, Tristan responded beautifully to the member of staff who joined him that morning and they agreed Tristan would do really well with them. And so Tristan started a few months later at AES Circle Centre for 2 days a week and continued to spend 2 days a week at the mainstream preschool.

The difference could be seen from the very first day Tristan went there. He ran into my arms with the biggest grin on his face. I'll never forget it. He was so happy. He was grounded and balanced but also excited and happy. And he was tired! He'd had to use his brain a lot during that session but it was in a way that was tailored to him; to his abilities, his sensory needs, his behaviour and his likes and hobbies. He slept beautifully that night and I put it down to all the excitement of starting at a new school, but consistently throughout his time at Circle Centre on the days he was there he was much more balanced, content, mentally and physically tired. He started to learn at an incredible rate. I had got the ball rolling with PECs after using them so much with his big brother so he was familiar with them when he started, but the staff at Circle Centre took him expertly through the levels of PECs communication at a pace he was comfortable with and over the weeks more and more speech was added to his vocabulary. His pronunciation was improving. His focus was amazing.

I'm going to share 2 examples of the feedback from his sessions at AES Circle Centre:

"Tristan has had a fantastic morning. Following the routine really well. We had his learning support assistant from preschool join us this morning. Hopefully she enjoyed her morning and got some ideas to take away. Tristan responded well to our 1,2,3 structure for work time. We had great fun playing Pop Up Pirate. We took turns and Tristan waited patiently. We then did an alphabet puzzle which Tristan did really well. We had fun playing outside splashing in the puddles. Tristan came straight in for circle time and sat beautifully throughout. Engaged in the spider activity. Tristan again made some wonderful requests at snack time. During messy play Tristan made a picture of a house using glue and shapes. A super morning. Well done."

"A brilliant session! Tristan came in bouncing and smiling.

We have had some amazing interactions today. We started off rolling in the tunnel.

Tristan smiled and kept asking for more.

We had lots of fun playing outside.

We enjoyed playing hide and seek. I counted whilst Tristan hid and then I hid and Tristan came to find me! We also went to find some toys which were hidden and Tristan enjoyed this very much.

Lots of jumping on the trampoline, playing on the cars, running and playing chase.

When Tristan has finished any task today he has said "finished!" He has transitioned beautifully.

During work time we played with the teddy who was poorly. Today Tristan wanted to check my blood pressure and check my heart. Amazing interaction while I pretended I was poorly and Tristan was so sweet and caring.

We played a game of animal noises and took it in turns to make the sound - Tristan did FAB! He named and made the noises for snake, elephant, lion, wolf, bird, frog and seal (which he needed help with which was understandable!) Super impressed!

Tristan came into circle time and was thoroughly engaged throughout. Well done!

Snack time - super requests and eye contact improving all the time. He is working hard to give me the whole PEC strip.

We had a super fun messy play session with floating and sinking items as well as ice which Tristan enjoyed. Tristan has initiated lots of play today. Super super!

Have a wonderful weekend!"

Amazing, right?!

What was so wonderful as well was that since starting at AES Circle Centre Tristan was also managing his preschool days much better too. He was so much more settled and more able to join in and access the curriculum - which the school had worked with Circle Centre to adapt for him.

But the best thing? He was so happy.

What do we want for our children? We want them to be healthy and happy. My son was now really happy. He would RUN to Circle Centre each morning. A big part of why this place was so amazing for him was the beautiful relationship he built with his 1-1 teacher. Tristan absolutely adores her. I say adores not adored because we're still friends! We've kept in touch since he left and have had a couple of playdates that Tristan did not want to end! If it weren't for lockdown we'd have had many more, but he'll be thrilled to see her when he can again.

The knowledge, experience and expertise of the team at AES Circle Centre is second to none. I guarantee it. And that expertise comes with a hefty cost. They need to fundraise over £320,000 a year to cover their expenses. They are supported by Charitable Trusts, companies, community groups, sports clubs, schools and individuals.

Within a few weeks of him attending their nursery I knew I wanted to help with fundraising. I thought for a long time about what I could do. Bake sales didn't seem to cut it. I needed to try to bring more money in than a few pounds for a cake... And then my mind returned to that painting of Tristan's; The Favourite. The one my Facebook friends went cuckoo over and wanted on their walls and thought should be in galleries.

And I thought to myself;

"This. This is what I'll do. I'll use what we already do. I'll sell their amazing art."

And here we are.

And here you are.

Thank you.

Autism Early Support have an amazing outreach programme available to support families across the UK. Click here to read more.

And they also provide excellent training and resources for nurseries, schools and practitioners. Click here for more.

#ParentingBlog #AutismParenting #Neurodiversity #ParentingSupport #Creativity #CreativeIdeas #PlayIdeas #Connection #CharitySupport

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