The lady behind the initiative is Allison Cuthbertson who set off on the journey of working with children with special educational needs over twenty years ago. Talking exclusively to Autism Daily Newscast, Allison explains,
“I was lucky enough to be a stay at home mum when my children were little, but when they both were old enough to go to full time school I decided to do a childcare course. Towards the end of the course I became a single mum and had to earn some money. I realised that staff working in SEN were paid more so I decided that that was the route for me. I very quickly learned that the money is not why people work with children who have SEN; they do it because they love it.”
Allison has worked with both adults and children who are on the autistic spectrum, who have a learning disability and of whom many display challenging behaviour. Allison has many qualifications including qualified SEN nursery nurse status, Bachelor of Arts in Special Education (Autism) and a Master’s degree in Education Development
“So now almost 20 years from re-starting my education I have experience and qualifications that give me a great understanding of the challenges parents and children face in relation to ASD and challenging behaviours. Currently I work in a local authority alternative provision. I work with around 16 learners who have all fallen through the education net at key stage 4, most of them have challenging behaviours, some have additional needs due to disabilities, but all have been permanently excluded or have not attended main stream education for a prolonged period of time”
When asked why she decided to set up the ASD specific nursery Allison told Autism Daily Newscast,
“As with most people I know, being self-employed has always been a dream. In 2011 I set up OAG Consultants. The idea was to go into schools and businesses and raise awareness of ASD through training. I have the knowledge and know how to deliver it to others, it was going to be great, but as a safety net I would work for the local authority on supply to keep some money coming in while the business grew. I ended up working so much for the authority that I didn’t have much time to do any training. I spent the first year working in foundation stage with a boy who was going through the diagnosis process.
“This all got me thinking. I noticed a need for pre-school child care that would support children either with a diagnosis or without but who were not responding or developing as neuro typical children. These children were being placed in mainstream schools that had very little understanding of their needs. I also realised that this was not just in my area, but due to my followers on twitter I noticed a pattern and started to think about a way these children could be supported.”
“I want the nursery to be a community based project where parents can come and learn about the condition and not feel intimidated or belittled. I want to be a centre of excellence in the region; people will come to us for training and awareness. I want children and parents to feel safe in the knowledge that security, safety, and inclusion are top of the agenda. I want the space to be ASD friendly in every possible way. I want high staffing ratios so that staff will ‘know’ the children almost as well as parents.”
The services that will be offered by Leo’s Childcare will be based on need. Allison explains that,
“ I would like to involve the local GPs, dentists, schools and even hairdressers in the nursery. Children with ASD find these situations particularly difficult and strange, so by inviting them to come into the setting and play with the children it may help when they need to go to see them in a more professional context.”
The nursery will have a drop in session once a week for any parent to discuss any concerns or worries that they may have and will also give them a chance to meet with other parents. Allison explains,
“I feel parents are often left with no support and feel they are alone in their struggle. This should not be the case. “
The nursery will cater for children from the ages of three to six years. Children do not need to have a diagnosis of ASD to attend. The child will also have the same key worker during their time at the nursery. There is no building at the moment but Allison is looking for premises that will provide provision for around 20 children. There will also be access to an outside play area.
Allison explain the reason for naming the nursery, Leo’s Childcare,
“The nursery is called Leos’s Childcare after Leo Kanner, who was one of the first people to recognise ASD as a condition on its own and not connected to other mental health conditions’”