Kate E. Reynolds

  • Daisy Chain, Norton, Stockton-on-Tees

    It’s a crisp, snowy morning in the North East of England. The Satellite Navigation has directed me to this modern building near Stockton-on-Tees. I’m an hour early and sit for a moment in my car, absorbing that there is an outdoor play area to the side of what appears to be a good plot of land. And the building? This Daisy Chain, a facility for people affected by autism spectrum conditions, whether they themselves or members of their family are on the spectrum. Daisy Chain takes referrals mainly from Stockton Council and include anyone from toddlers to 25+ years. They offer counselling, education and support.

    Inside it feels airy and clean. There is a large conference room, where I’m to give my presentation. This room also houses several pool tables and other entertainments for a young people’s group.

    From the cleaner, who likes my necklace, to the receptionist, who has to let me in and out of the secure building numerous times, I am warmly welcomed. The manager, who originally contacted me through this www.autismagonyaunt.com website, has a name that any children’s television presenter would be proud of, Laura Leaf. She has obvious enthusiasm, a keen awareness of confidentiality and a wealth of knowledge. Laura shows me around the comprehensive resources at Daisy Chain, from a sensory room (about to receive a new piece of equipment) to a quiet room, several multi-purpose rooms and a soft play area.

    A well-equipped computer room will welcome several young people, aged eighteen years plus, with autism this morning. They are taking part in a six month Employability course, during which they can gain a certificate in Manual Handling, Food Hygiene and an Entry Level 3 Award in Employability Skills. Students do theory work at Daisy Chain, followed by gaining work experience at a Daisy Chain Charity shop.

    There are a range of outdoor facilities, too, including a fenced and locked pond for dipping. I haven’t anticipated this and have worn completely inappropriate heels. Additionally, there are penned areas for people to experience gardening, plus farm animals such as hens and ducks. A large barn houses guinea pigs, rabbits and two pigs – one larger than the other due to greed on the part of the big one. When I enter, the little pig is being fed separately to make sure he gets his quota. The warmest outdoor room is the reptile house, boasting many of the creatures that make my skin crawl (not literally – for any autistic readers.) In here are snakes, tarantulas, giant snails and lizards.

    It’s 10 am and I’m due to start speaking. Only four parents are here and I prepare for a huddle rather than a crowd. I needn’t worry; by 10.15 there are over twenty people – all women, bar one man – busily chatting. I ask them to write down one burning question about sexuality and autism on a card, partly to develop my presentations and partly for a future book. Power point presentation to hand, I begin by outlining much of the information in ‘Sexuality and Severe Autism’, that being:

    • Why it’s important to educate our children about sexuality.

    • What can happen if we don’t educate our children about sexuality.

    • Practical strategies for tackling teaching sexuality.

    The group is lively and interesting. I take questions throughout the session, rather than waiting until the end. Questions range from when and how to start talking about sexuality, to how to enable our children to resist being tempted to behave sexually inappropriately. Perhaps the most important aspect of the talk is that either I can answer queries or Daisy Chain, as an organisation can offer relevant services, such as counselling. Lack of support service is often an issue.

    Many of the questions are helped by the latest books about Tom and Ellie, which can be read alongside generic reading material. The books are designed to enable parents to bring up what can be awkward issues, such as masturbation and public and private behaviours. Often, having a focus can facilitate discussing tricky issues. Sexuality is certainly one of those.

    I finish after two hours – but with some people still wanting to ask questions. That’s where this website comes in. If any of you have a question about sexuality education or other subjects related to autism, please contact me through the Contact page.

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