MP's visit to playgroup for autistic youngsters

Bexhill MP Huw Merriman joined parents and carers at a special playgroup that meets every Friday morning at Sidley Children's Centre.
Huw Merriman MP visited OwletsHuw Merriman MP visited Owlets
Huw Merriman MP visited Owlets

The playgroup is specifically for parents and carers of children on the autistic spectrum or with undiagnosed speech and communication delays, who often find it difficult for their children to socialise at other groups.

It was set up by local mums Jill Cramp, Natasha Ray and Joanna Barfoot, whose four-year-old son Leo was diagnosed with autism when he was three. Jo explained to Mr Merriman that she felt uncomfortable at other parent and toddler groups and playgroups as Leo’s autism meant he did not ‘fit in’.

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With the help of Sam Glassock, the Bexhill Children’s Centre volunteer Ccoordinator who works for East Sussex County Council, Jo, Jill and Natasha set up Owlets for autistic children in January this year. They now meet every Friday morning and have recently welcomed Kelly Gillman to the team.

Mr Merriman said: “Since being elected in 2015 I have met many parents who feel they have to fight to get the support and education that their child needs. This cannot be right.

“As well as working closely with our local education authority I am also a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Autism. This is a cross-party group that aims to raise awareness of autism and Asperger syndrome and to campaign for changes to benefit those with autism and their families. It was a pleasure to visit the playgroup and chat to the parents and carers who clearly enjoy being in such an understanding environment with their children who were all having a great time. I have asked Jo to keep in touch and she has kindly offered to help with a Parliamentary enquiry into access to education for autistic children which I am currently co-chairing for the National APPG on Autism.”

Jo added: “I feel Leo has been very fortunate with the care he has received from the staff at Amberley Nursery, where he receives one-to-one support, and their SENCO, who has been a huge support to myself and Leo. Unfortunately, after talking to parents at Owlets playgroup, I have learnt this is not the case for everyone.

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“Many parents are having to fight to get their children’s basic educational needs met. Any parent’s goal is to raise a child to become an independent adult and be able to take their place in society. A diagnosis of autism should not be a barrier to this.

“I am very grateful to Huw for visiting us, and for giving me the opportunity to help with the enquiry into access to education for autistic children.”

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