SEND children write and illustrate two new books, with the help of Bedford Borough Council

Engagement and Development Officer Emily Meekins, Acting Engagement and Development Officer Holly Frassall, Manager of Bedford Borough Council’s Engagement and Development Team Hayley Mills, Autism In Schools Apprentice Annie Urquhart, and Business Support Administrator Matt Dupont enjoy reading Joe Loves Lego

Children with autism have helped create a pair of new books which let them have their voices heard, thanks to Bedford Borough Council.

Autistic youngsters wrote From Me To You, consisting of a series of letters written to either their younger selves, to other younger children, or to their teachers.

And they both proofread and provided illustrations for Joe Loves Lego, which was written by Acting Engagement and Development Officer Holly Frassall. This takes the experiences of children with autism to tell the story of a young boy called Joe, explaining how Joe experiences the world, what life is like for him in the classroom, and his diagnosis.

Both books are part of wider work by the Council’s engagement team and the Autism in Schools Project improving the experience of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). 

Holly said: “Having a story is always a good way to get a message across. I didn’t know of any books about children with autism in our classrooms, so I drew on my own observations and conversations in this job, as a teacher, and as a parent. I spoke to young autistic people about their experiences of life in the classroom.

“We then shared it with the young people so that they could make more suggestions, before they drew the illustrations.

“I’ve always secretly wanted to be an author, but this has been more wonderful than I could have hoped.”

The council has had 1,000 copies of each book printed, along with 600 teacher packs. These have been shared among schools, nurseries, libraries, health services, and other areas served by the Children’s Services team.

Joe Loves Lego has accompanying lesson sheets which offer guidance for teachers, with activities such as writing a letter to Joe to talk to him about his worries and how you could help him, and giving explanations on topics such as stimming or being noise-sensitive.

The books were developed to deliver the aims and objectives of the Autism in Schools Project which is run in Bedford and funded by NHS England.

Holly added: “The first time I held the print copy my eyes welled up with tears to see all the work the children had put into it.

“I just wanted to create a book to help all children understand the experience of having autism. Stories can have such an impact whatever age you are, and I wanted something that could be enjoyed by children with or without autism.”

The books are part of  Bedford Borough Council’s work to educate teachers and school leaders about autism and different teaching methods, and to offer training and support to parents and carers of young people with autism.

Hayley Mills, Manager of Bedford Borough Council’s Engagement and Development Team, explained how both books fit into the wider ethos of the team.

“Both books are so honest,” she said. “When you ask any child for feedback they’re sharing a piece of themselves, which can make people of any age feel vulnerable. 

“From Me To You is literally their own experiences and with so many messages, from anger, to ‘This moment in time is difficult but you will find out who you are and it will get better’.

“Every child with special education needs is different. Some know that they have autism and absolutely own it, they see it as a superpower. Then there are others, like one boy who wrote on a piece of paper ‘I’m not a child with autism, I’m me,’ – that really had an impact on all of us. These two books are for all of them.”

Annie, an apprentice with Bedford Borough Council who is neurodivergent, was delighted with the book.

She said; “Joe Loves LEGO is a great story that perfectly captures some of the things people with autism experience, such as sensory issues and stimming.

“It is an amazing way for younger children to begin to learn about and be aware of Autism, and maybe learn some things about themselves too.”

Cllr Jane Walker, Portfolio Holder for Family, Education, Children’s Services said; “Our staff never stop looking for ways they can support all our young people, but sometimes they do something that takes the breath away.

“Thank you not just to Holly and the Autism in Schools team who made this happen, but to all the young people who shared their time, their knowledge, and their experience, to this very special project.”

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