SINCE 2017, the North East Autism Society (NEAS) has worked closely with the Great North Children’s Hospital (GNCH) to provide personalised care and support for autistic children across the region.

The partnership began with the establishment of a music group for pre-school children, who were on the pathway or had already been diagnosed as autistic, in collaboration with Sage Gateshead – and, in the seven years since, the partnership has continued to grow. 

NEAS Family Development Manager Kerrie Highcock has worked alongside Dr Helen Leonard, Consultant Paediatrician at GNCH, and her colleagues to ensure that young autistic children and their families can access the support they need pre, during and post diagnosis.

This work has been rolled out in the form of: specialist training for hospital staff at GNCH and the Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI), the creation of a suite of videos for the BAME community in partnership with Helen Leonard, Marie Sowter (SALT) and Alice Gair (occupational therapist), and the launch of weekly hubs across Newcastle for pre-school children.

Kerrie also helped the hospital to recruit its first specialist autism nurse in 2022 and Judith Gibson has now been in post for 10 month. And, despite the increasing number of autism referrals and diagnoses, Judith says she is “unaware in acute trust of anyone with a job like mine”.

“I am involved in that initial intervention when children are first diagnosed, and working with NEAS I deliver tailored care, depending on what each family wants and how we can help them,” Judith says.

“Newcastle is really forward thinking,” Judith adds. “They have started to make change – and it’s really needed.

We have to listen to autistic children and their families, listen to their worries and concerns, and tailor a service around them.

While Judith may be new to her role, the partnership between NEAS and GNCH has achieved a number of positive results since its establishment, with parents commenting that they feel able to “better understand and support” their children, as well as gaining knowledge around autism and aspects of day-to-day life such as eating, transitions, school and family outings.

In recent weeks NEAS and GNCH have delivered training around autism and neurodiversity to health visitors and school nurses in Newcastle. Judith says: “The feedback was that they want more, they want to know more.”

Dr Leonard has also supported NEAS with many of its campaigns, including the current Everyday Equality Health campaign. You can read her piece on autism waiting lists here. She has also contributed to the free resources available via our Family Development website.

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