Mum-of-two Claire Krost, 37, has provided support and guidance for parents through her company Waking Up To Autism and developed a training programme for schools, which will be rolled out in September.
She and husband Dan Krost said lockdown last year had been a difficult time for the family, as their children struggled to cope with the extreme changes schools had to make, including bubbles and social distancing.
Olivia, 11, and Adam, eight, have both been diagnosed as autistic and Claire said it had often been a real struggle to get the right support.
It was six weeks after starting school in October 2014 that Olivia’s behaviours and mannerisms were discussed at parents evening and it was suggested further assessment was needed.
Claire said: “We were shocked. We just did not see it coming at all and I promptly burst into tears, partly from the unexpectedness of it but mainly due to feelings of mortification.
“I was utterly mortified that a woman who had only known my child for a mere six weeks knew this about her and I, her mother, didn’t. I honestly felt like I had horrifically failed her and let her down.
“This is when I embarked on learning everything there is to know about autism. For the last six years, I have researched the traits, the challenges, the causes. I have learned about the school system and how to access support.
“I started Waking Up To Autism as a way of sharing my knowledge and experience with other parents. Parents who find themselves in the same boat as I did – overwhelmed and fumbling in the dark for help and support.”
Claire had worked in administration for the NHS for 16 years but with the difficulties Covid-19 restrictions presented, she felt she had no option but to leave her job due to the needs of her children.
Dan said: “This, without doubt, was a very stressful and overwhelming time and put a great deal of pressure on the family. It became clear that the best thing to do was to become self-employed in a role that could be worked from home.
“For some time prior to Covid, Claire had been subjected to the isolation and pressures that come with being a parent of children with additional needs.
“Having had to go through the painfully-long diagnosis process twice, plus fight numerous battles in order to gain the appropriate support and help for her children educationally, she was well aware that there was a huge gap in parental support and guidance. Even more so with the sudden impact of lockdown.”
Waking Up To Autism is a support service for parents, offering one-to-one consultations, workshops and online programmes to help increase knowledge and provide guidance.
Olivia and Adam have both attended Georgian Gardens Primary School in Rustington and Dan said staff had been ‘an amazing support for the family’.
With the school’s help, the Krosts secured places in specialist settings, Oak Grove College in Worthing for Olivia and New Barn School in Broadbridge Heath for Adam.
Dan said: “Unfortunately, a lot of families are not as lucky. Claire has been creating a programme to take into mainstream schools to help teaching staff be able to embrace autism in the classroom more successfully.
“Claire is passionate about creating awareness and promoting acceptance of autism in general, to better educate society so that our children grow up in a world that is more aware and so people with autism are able to access workplaces and gain meaningful employment.”
The first booking for Embracing Autism in the Mainstream Classroom has been made by Norbury School in Harrow and Claire hopes to roll it out across a wide area.
Part of this work has led to the launch of Smash The Confusion, a child-friendly t-shirt and booklet, which explains what autism is and how people can give support.
For more information, visit the website www.wakinguptoautism.com