IMPROVING LIVES: Autism And Learning Difficulties

Last week we were in Manchester at Improving Lives: Autism and Learning Difficulties, a conference by Open Forum Events. It was a true eye-opener and gave us a true understanding of current thinking on the topics from a huge list of expert speakers who have an incredible amount of first-hand experience and knowledge. Not only were there many professionals at the event, but people also shared their amazing and inspiring success stories that showed us how it can be made possible and what needs to be done for a better future of neurodiversity. In this article we have highlighted some of the talks from the event, it was difficult to choose, as the day was crammed with incredible presentations.

I would like to first start with Tony Collins who is the Learning Disability Ambassador for Remploy, Tony has a learning disability but by no means does he let it stop him! He spoke passionately about how people with learning disabilities have a right to work and are some of the best workers anyone could ever employ. His and Remploy’s mission is to make employment equal, which means that employers need to take on more responsibility to adjust the workplace and create a more fair interviewing system. He also mentioned that Remploy supplies free Job Coaching so people can physically learn and do the job at no cost to the employer, he also offers webinars and workshops.


‘People with Learning Disabilities, can work, will work and want to work!’

Tony Collins, Learning Disability Ambassador for Remploy.


Next up, I would like to talk about Lorraine Taylor a disability nurse and Head of Development at Affinity Trust and Ruth (resident at the trust). The Affinity Trust is dedicated to supporting people with learning disabilities to live the lives they want to. It was very clear that they had helped Ruth and others live the life they have always wanted and deserve to have, giving her more freedom than she should would of ever had in her previous care. Listening and to the persons that needs care is vital in ensuring they live in the best setting for them. It seemed key to Affinity Trust’s practice that to provide such a standard of care, their staff need their own space and a lot of support.


‘Its worth it coming out here as you are happier and have more friends.’

Ruth, Affinity Trust Resident


I had heard of musical therapy before this conference, but I had never seen it in action, Nordoff Robbins an independent musical therapy charity showed us all how successful it could be! The speaker Esma Perkins took us through how she tailors and personalises the therapy to find ways to help people with their difficulties. Esma focused on Charlie who struggled with processing verbal language and anxiety and how she helped him break free from his inflexible behaviours that locked him out of society. It is all about finding connections between the therapist and the patient, creating comfort, excitement and confidence with music, which transfers into comfort and confidence in life. With this musical therapy Charlie was able to communicate a lot more socially and even went on to sing at a Battle of the Bands competition.

At the end of the day we had a panel debate with:

Sarah Chapman founder of Operation Diversity!

Gary Bourlet co-founder of Learning Disability England

Dr Rachel Worthington consultant psychologist MHC UK Ltd

Elaine Nicholson MBE CEO and counsellor at Action for Aspergers.

The debate highlighted the problems in the funding systems and the fact that the funders themselves do not have the money needed to help the organisations. Although this is a difficult and negative topic the general feeling is that there are so many of us working hard to make this system going in the correct direction. A member of the audience that works for Bolton College told us about how they help students with learning difficulties or disabilities, just be students by ensuring they get personalised help for their needs.


‘There are pockets of good practice all over the UK, but it needs to be joined up’

Gary Bourlet, co-founder of Learning Disability England.


Altogether it was an amazing and eye-opening event with inspiring participants from different backgrounds! I would like to thank all of the speakers from IMPROVING LIVES: Austism and Learning Difficulties as it was truly an inspirational day! So thank you to: Together Trust, The Salvesen Mindroom Centre, Choice Support, Autistic Society for the Greater Manchester (ASGMA), MacIntyre, Affinity Trust, Nordoff Robbins, Remploy, Seashell Trust, Safelives, Learning Disability England, Operation Diversity, Child Development Centre, Action for Asperger’s, MHC UK Ltd and of course to the organisers Open Forum Events.

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