A NATIONAL conference aimed at increasing understanding of autism and neurodiversity is likely to be repeated annually after an inaugural event was described as a “huge success”.

The one-day conference “Creative Inclusion” conference attracted educationalists from around the country, with some of the world’s leading experts presenting lectures and workshops.

The conference, held at Wynyard Hall, was organised by Stockton Borough Council in partnership with the North East Autism Society.

Joanne Mills, Special Educational Needs and Engagement Manager for the council, said:

We are proud to have brought some of the most eminent minds in this field to the North East. There is a real appetite to do it every year and that’s the plan.

The speakers were carefully selected to inspire and add to the delegates’ toolbox of knowledge so they can make a real difference.

Speakers included Dame Christine Lenehan OBE, Director of the Council of Disabled Children since 2003 and Co-Chair of the Children and Young People’s Health Outcomes Forum.

Another key speaker, Professor Amanda Kirby, said:

This is leading the way and it is exciting to see what the next steps will be. It is always a pleasure to work with the North East Autism Society which is always striving to do the best for every individual.

NEAS has launched the UK’s first Autism and Neurodiversity Academy (ANDA) to drive forward training in a wide range of organisations.

Author Gareth Morewood, who has been a Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator for 20 years and shaped provision in schools and local authorities worldwide, added:

Funding is weaker and systems more challenging so we have to be more creative and this has been a fantastic foundation for that.

Joanna Grace, an international sensory engagement and inclusion specialist, said:

It has been a really impressive line-up of some of the foremost experts in the country. To get one of them on stage is an achievement – to have all of them on the same bill is unprecedented. At a time of budget cuts, it is important to focus on knowledge and creative thinking because sharing that knowledge will make provision of services cheaper.

Other speakers were Tigger Pritchard, who has more than 30 years of experience working alongside individuals with autism, intellectual differences, and learning disabilities.

Kieran Rose, a writer, consultant, and trainer called for major changes in the education system. He has two autistic children and was diagnosed with autism himself in 2003.

Jonathan Raiseborough, an autistic young adult from Darlington, moved the audience by talking about his life and how he became the illustrator of Snowdrop The Spikeshuffler, a children’s book about the importance of accepting difference.

John Phillipson, Chief Executive of the North East Autism Society, said:

The conference has been a powerful way to share knowledge and to give people with autism a stronger voice.