Claire Campbell is a Thanet mum-of-three and formerly an SEN teacher working in a specialist school in Broadstairs where all children are autistic with complex learning needs.
She is also PA for Beau, taking him out at weekends or in school holidays to support his mum getting respite and the youngster accessing activities.
Her monthly column aims to raise awareness and cultivate change:
Last month I began to explore the idea that it is people and not places that are really important when it comes to meaningful community involvement. Feeling connection and belonging with other people has such a positive impact on your wellbeing.
I always intended to write this column for a year. I started it in January in order to follow my progress with regards to a new year’s resolution that I set for myself along with my three children to positively impact better community access for families with children with SEND in our tiny corner of the world. And so as November draws to a close and the end of the year is indeed in sight it feels right to reflect upon that aim.
I am hopeful that my column has reached people and that it has had some positive impact in whatever small way. Whether it is in sharing a SEND session, discovering outdoor spaces with good facilities to explore, or whether it is just discussing issues such as differing communication styles and play styles and building awareness of this.
I was chosen as a finalist for a Kent Press and Broadcasting Award for columnist of the year back in May based on some of my early columns. As a new and inexperienced writer I hope this success was acknowledgement of the effort of my columns to cultivate change. And I am not the only one working to do this. I have met many like-minded people who are also keen to support change.
Earlier this week I went to the See Me group at St James’ church in Margate. I had heard about this group a while back and mentioned it in a previous column. I finally managed to pop along and I was so impressed by the offer of this group. Friendly, relaxed and welcoming, beautifully resourced with all sensory needs considered including items like skateboards and balancing stepping stones for vestibular activity (movement/balance), and with play therapists on hand to engage with and support children in their play.
The child that I took was drawn to so many of the items and was able to engage with activities and resources that may not be readily available at home. It felt like a very non-judgemental space for children (and parents!) to be themselves without having to try to fit in. With plans to grow this group and offer workshops for parents, this could be a lovely place to build relationships if you are experiencing isolation that can become the reality of an SEN parent. I am really looking forward to going back. The next session is on 11th December at 3.30pm. The details for the group are in the photograph.
I also was fortunate enough to find another like-minded person when I met Emma a couple of weeks ago. Emma’s son Stefan was an autistic teenage boy who experienced bullying, was let down by multiple system failures, and began to learn that people didn’t really care about doing what was right. He sadly took his own life last year and whilst his family battle grief and heartbreak they are also really keen to share Stefan’s story and they work very hard to ensure there are no more preventable deaths like Stefan’s.
One way that Stefan’s family do this is with Stefan’s Memory Stones. They encourage people to paint stones (or take stones that they leave in a box outside their home) and to take them with them and leave them in spots whilst out in their local community, on a day trip, or on holiday. When I met with Stefan’s mum Emma she told me about a lady in Australia who paints stones for Stefan, and Emma shared a wonderful example (see main photo). Stefan’s stones have in fact been placed in many countries all over the world. And these can be seen on Facebook and Instagram.
Emma and her husband Tristan have appeared on Meridian TV and on the BBC news talking about the lack of appropriate services for neurodiverse children and young people in Kent and across the country. Emma has spoken at several training courses delivered by Mind on suicide and mental health, for secondary school staff in Kent, and highlighting the risk factors of mental health for neurodiverse young people. Tristan has become a core trainer for The Anna Freud Centre, training NHS staff on Autism and mental health. Together Emma and Tristan are campaigning for change and for more appropriate services for neurodiverse children and young people.
Something that Emma said that really stuck with me was ‘It is really isolating being an SEN parent but it is even more isolating being a bereaved parent’. It made me realise that there are all kinds of reasons that people may feel isolation and all kinds of reasons why they may need a space to be with and talk with other people. It could be bereavement, parenting, mental health difficulties, English not being your first language. So, as I prepare to slope off into the shadows and leave my monthly ramblings with you at a round dozen, I don’t want to let go of the possibility of continuing to build awareness or to support community access. And so I am hoping to start a community group to meet initially once a month. This group will be for stone painting.
A get together to paint stones could be a great opportunity to meet people and build relationships or just to get out the house and do something different. From going out walking to spotting some interesting stones to collect, washing and drying the stones, creating designs, right back round to walking in favourite spots to place the stones once decorated. Stones, like people, are all unique, coming in a variety of shapes and sizes, with a range of quirks and qualities that make them interesting. Perhaps you would like to decorate a stone for an individual in your own life or you may wish to share a stone for Stefan.
Once I have the venue confirmed, I will set a date for the new year and share it with you all in my December column.
In the meantime check out ‘Stefan’s Memory Stones’ on Facebook. It’s a great example of how a little community connectedness can go a long way (all the way to Australia in this case!).