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Improving Lives: Autism and Learning Difficulties

  • Thursday, 12 October 2017
  • Manchester Conference Centre
  • 08:30 - 16:30
  • Overview

Following the highly successful Improving Lives: Supporting Adults with Learning Disabilities, Open Forum Events are delighted to be continuing this crucially important series of conferences by introducing Improving Lives: Autism and Learning Difficulties.

Learning difficulty is an umbrella term and used to describe an issue with the brain’s ability to process information. Individuals with a learning difficulty may not learn as easily or in the same way as their peers and may find the development of basic skills challenging. The effects have lifelong implications for education, work, relationships and general daily life, however, with the right interventions and support individual’s potential can be translated into actual achievement.

In the UK 700,000 people are on the autism spectrum, representing one in ten of the population. However, the impacts are much more widely felt and experienced by 2.8 million once family members and carers are considered. Other common learning difficulties include dyslexia, dyspraxia, attention deficit disorder (ADD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyscalculia and dysgraphia. These Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs), thought to affect about 15% of people, are neurological, can be inherited and occur independently of intelligence. This fact has recently been confirmed by new data released by America’s National Centre for Learning Disabilities Support (NCLD) which demonstrates that children with learning and attention issues are “as smart as their peers, but too often misunderstood as lazy or unintelligent.” It is imperative that greater understanding is acquired to aid diagnosis, improve personalised support and promote inclusion.

The Improving Lives: Autism and Learning Difficulties conference will seek to share a greater understanding of the impacts of learning difficulties and how these affect individuals and their families. The agenda has been designed to explore how potential can be realised and life chances maximised through the support on offer and strategic reform. We will hear from a line-up of individuals, expert professionals and contributors working with and for people with a learning difficulty, who can provide an insight into the key issues and exchange ideas. There will be ample opportunity for delegates to interject and interact with speakers and fellow attendees through the question and answer sessions and the afternoon panel debate on neurodiversity and inclusion.

For people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or people with learning or attention issues, life is far from easy. They are often referred to as ‘hidden disability’ as it is not always obvious that anything may be wrong which can lead to delayed diagnosis. Present from birth, both are lifelong conditions and impact on how individuals view and interpret the world around them. There is no correlation with reduced intellect and often individuals are of higher than average intelligence but the neurological challenges affect the way the brain receives, processes, stores, and analyses information.

Being on the autistic spectrum or having a specific learning difficulty (SpLDs) makes it hard to fulfil true capability, as the difficulty arises in the gap between the individual’s potential for achievement and ability to achieve.

Ensuring that people are given the same chances and opportunities than anyone else can be aided by offering personalised support where individuals can make their own choices as to the support they receive, rather than the services they are given. The level of support needed varies from very little, if none, to full-time care. Often this care is provided by family members, who themselves will at intervals need supporting, whether it be advice, respite/day care, financial or physical help.

Attaining a good education leads to greater job and career prospects. Since 2014 there has been reform ongoing to the way disabled children and young people, and those with special educational needs (SEN), get the support they need. The end implementation is due in 2018, when for those with the most complex needs, a single education, health and care plan (EHCP) will replace statements of special educational needs and learning difficulty assessments. Councils have up to April 2018 to transition everyone to EHCPs.

The government pledged to introduce three million apprenticeships by 2020 and has also introduced this year the apprenticeship levy where employers are committed to paying a ‘tax’ of 0.5% of payroll over £3 million on a monthly basis to fund the apprenticeship programme. A taskforce commissioned to explore how access to apprenticeships can be improved for people with learning difficulties or disabilities (LDD) made 14 recommendations to the government, all of which it has agreed to implement.

Despite improved understanding of autism and learning difficulties there continues to exist a culture of discrimination and stigma. Neurodiversity is the idea that neurological differences like autism and ADHD are the result of normal, natural variation in the human genome and not a result of disease or injury. In 2016, the United Nations challenged us to celebrate neurodiversity and to ensure that people with autism and learning difficulties are included in every aspect of community life and end exclusion from aspects of life such as quality education, access to employment and social activities. This will be the topic of the conference panel debate.

Join us at the Improving Lives: Autism and Learning Difficulties conference where we will enjoy a coming together of like-minded individuals dedicated to enhancing the lives of those on the ASD and those with learning difficulties.

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Registration and Coffee in the Networking Area


Chair’s Opening Remarks

  • Mark Lee, CEO, Together Trust (confirmed)
"It Takes all Kinds of Minds"

Having a learning difficulty is a lifelong challenge but how dull would the world be if we were all the same? How do we really get it right for every child and young person so that they have a chance to shine? And what does success look like?

  • Gary Aldridge, Assistant Director of PBS and PCAS, Choice Support (confirmed)
"Championing Individualised and Bespoke Support’"

Behaviours that may challenge are a result of a mismatch between individual needs and the support being offered. The aim has to be to offer a better fit, based in individual choice and preferences. If an individual is supported how they want to be supported, by people they want to be supported by, to do the things they want to do, behaviours that challenge do not occur. It is up to all those involved in an individual’s support to provide the flexibility, imagination and commitment to positive risk taking to ensure this happens. An example of this in practice and the lessons to learn that still need to take place.

  • Les Neal, Operations Manager, Autistic Society for the Greater Manchester (ASGMA) (confirmed)
"Support For Those Providing Support"

Carers of people with learning disabilities are often unique amongst Carers. Many will experience a lifetime of caring for a son, daughter or sibling with learning disabilities but are often overlooked when it comes to providing support for them to carry out their vitally important caring duties.


Case Study

"My Life"

Natalie will be introducing Kirsty and her support staff to provide a real life case study about her experience of living with autism. Kirsty will be sharing her experience of being misunderstood, excluded and sectioned. Kirsty will be sharing the things that have helped her to get to a better place and have had a positive impact on her life


Question and Answer Session


Coffee in the Networking Area


Case Study

"Ruth’s Story – How Good Support Changes Lives"

Ruth had been living in a long stay hospital for many years and her quality of life was poor. Good partnership working and great person-centred support has transformed Ruth’s life and she wants to tell her story.

  • Esma Perkins, Music Therapist, North West Regional Team, Nordoff Robbins (confirmed)
"Finding potential in music: a case study of Nordoff Robbins music therapy in a specialist school for children and young people with Autistic Spectrum Disorder"

Nordoff Robbins is the largest music therapy charity in the UK and works with people experiencing a wide range of illness and disabilities, in many different settings. Our team of music therapists have extensive experience of working with children and young adults with autism, enabling them to realise more of their creative and communicative potential through music. This presentation will focus on a case study of varying music therapy work at a specialist school for children and young people with Autistic Spectrum Disorder, highlighting how the specialist use of music in this setting can enable students with additional learning difficulties to access school life as well as the therapeutic benefits of interactive music making.


  • Tony Collins, Learning Disability Ambassador, Remploy (confirmed)
"Making the Reasonable Adjustments Needed for People with Learning Disabilities to Gain and Sustain Employment"

Tony will be sharing his story with you about his recent experiences around raising awareness of learning disabilities.


Question and Answer Session


Lunch in the Networking Area


Chair’s Afternoon Address


Case Study

  • Joe Booker, Specialist Outreach Consultant, Seashell Trust (confirmed)
"Supported Employment at Seashell Trust"

Only 16% of autistic adults are in full-time paid employment and the proportion is even lower for those with associated learning difficulties. Seashell Trust’s Royal College Manchester educates young adults with severe/profound learning and communication difficulties, giving them the skills they need to live more independently and make decisions about their lives. For many of our students, this includes progression into supported employment.

In this case study, we look at how our students with severe learning difficulties and autism develop the skills they need for work, try different work experience options, make decisions about jobs they enjoy and secure offers of paid or voluntary employment after they leave college.

"Safeguarding: Protecting People Experiencing Abuse"

What can be done to enable people with learning difficulties access to domestic abuse support and to Marac? How can we make sure they become - and stay - safe?


Panel Debate

Gary Bourlet, Co-founder of Learning Disability England (confirmed)
Sarah Chapman, Managing Director, Operation Diversity (confirmed)
Dr Jeremy Fellick, Child Development Centre, Clatterbridge Hospital (confirmed)
Elaine Nicholson MBE, CEO & Counsellor, Action for Asperger’s (confirmed)

Dr Rachel Worthington, Consultant Psychologist, MHC UK Ltd (confirmed)

"Neurodiversity, Fighting Stigma and Promoting Inclusion"

How do we increase understanding and acceptance across all of society for those who process and experience the world differently and ensure they are afforded the same life chances as everyone else?


Chair’s Closing Remarks and Event Close

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  • What Works When Counselling Autistic Lives?

    • Posted on 21 June 2017
    • by Elaine Nicholson MBE, 4 Secure




Manchester Conference Centre

Manchester Conference Centre

Manchester Conference Centre is the ideal solution when searching for conference venues in Manchester. Top-of-the-range conference suites, 3 star value hotel accommodation, delicious dining and friendly service are the ideal components for a successful conference or event in the heart of the city centre.

The 18 conference rooms are decked out with all the mod cons including state-of-the-art AV technology, projectors and screens, free Wi-Fi and flip charts. Our clients cover the whole spectrum and include government organisations, trade unions, large corporate companies, non-profit organisations, health and education sectors and small to medium-sized businesses.

From the get-go we strive for excellence in everything we do and our dedicated team of conference professionals go all out to make sure your conference, event or exhibition runs like clockwork.

Featured Events

  • Improving Lives: Supporting Adults with Learning Disabilities

    • 31 January 2017
    • 08:30 - 16:15
    • Manchester Conference Centre
  • Living Well with Autism: Beyond the Limitations

    • 28 May 2015
    • 08:00 - 13:30
    • Manchester Conference Centre
  • Autism: The Challenges and Opportunities

    • 01 June 2016
    • 08:30 - 14:00
    • Manchester Conference Centre

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  • Improving Lives - Autism and Learning Difficulties 11.10.17
    Improving Lives - Autism and Learning Difficulties 11.10.17

who will attend

  • Carer
  • Chairs
  • Chief Executives
  • Clinical Commissioning Group member
  • Clinical Psychologist
  • Councillor
  • Direct Payment Team member
  • Director of Adult Safeguarding
  • Director of Adult Social Services
  • Director of Disability Services
  • Director of Older People’s Services
  • Director of Supported / Sheltered Housing
  • Directors of Children’s and Youth Services
  • Directors Young Offenders Institutions
  • Directors/Heads Educational Welfare Teams
  • Directors/Heads of Child Abuse Investigation Teams
  • Directors/Heads of Child Exploitation Teams
  • Directors/Heads of Child Protection Teams
  • Directors/Heads of Local Safeguarding Children Teams
  • Directors/Heads of Looked After Children Teams
  • Directors/Heads of Voluntary Sector Providers
  • Doctor
  • DoLS (Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards) Co-Ordinator
  • Head teachers
  • Health and Wellbeing Boards member
  • Learning Disability / Disability Liaison Nurse
  • Medical Directors
  • Neighbourhood and Community Policing Team member
  • Personalisation and Self-Directed Support Team member
  • Probation Officer
  • SENCOs and SEND Teams
  • Senior Police Officers and Public Protection Units
  • Social Workers
  • Support Workers