MBE for author of ‘instruction manual’ for autism

  • 29 December 2017
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Deborah Brownson and familyImage copyright
Deborah Brownson

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Deborah Brownson says her experiences caring for Jake (second left) inspired her campaign

A woman who gave up her job to care for her autistic sons has been made an MBE for a campaign to boost support for autistic children and their families.

Deborah Brownson says caring for her boys can be relentless and, too often, professionals are unable to help.

She wrote He’s Not Naughty! A Children’s Guide to Autism “almost as an instruction manual for families caring for autistic children”.

From an initial print run of just 1,000 it is now used all over the world.

From her home in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, Mrs Brownson, who used to work as a solicitor, co-ordinates a 3,000 strong Facebook support group for the carers of autistic children.

She also campaigned successfully for autism to be included in teacher training courses and is an advisor to the BBC1 drama, “The A Word”, about a family with an autistic child in Cumbria.

The drama mirrors many of the difficulties she and her family faced.

Her son Jake was diagnosed as severely autistic at 18 months.

His older brother is also on the spectrum but is less severely affected.

“You hope you are going to get help but none comes,” Mrs Brownson says.

Image copyright
Deborah Brownson

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Jake with actor Christopher Ecclestone on the set of The A Word

When Jake was five, Mrs Brownson removed him from his village primary school and home schooled him for five months.

She says he became withdrawn and unhappy if teachers treated him as if he was just being naughty.

Now, every day, she drives him 12 miles each way to a mainstream school where staff have been trained to teach autistic children.

Mrs Brownson says parents are too often offered reference material “full of medical jargon. They don’t have time to read it and they are also shattered”.

“They want answers to questions like, ‘Why won’t he sleep? Why does he rock and flap when he’s excited? Why can he not cope with strong smells or crowds? Why can he not make friends?'”

“Their brains work completely differently to yours or mine.

“Sometimes they are non verbal. You have to be a bit like a private investigator.

“I decided to write down everything I could think of that someone looking after Jake would need to know.”

Image copyright
Deborah Brownson

Mrs Brownson showed the notes to an educational psychologist who suggested publishing them.

In the book, the information and advice is given by a child who is friends with an autistic boy.

“The idea is that anyone of any age or ability should be able to understand it.”

The support group came about after the book was published and she was “bombarded by parents who were desperate for help”.

She says the honour came “completely out of the blue”.

“I am not sure why I was singled out. I am proud to be part of a community of parents up and down the country doing something to make the world better for their children.”

She says her husband, a fire fighter and personal trainer, had to take on extra work to allow her to focus on her carer role.

All four of them plan to be at Buckingham Palace for the investiture ceremony.

Education honours

Overall about 11% of the honours are for work in education, including:

  • a damehood for Liverpool University Vice Chancellor Prof Janet Beer
  • a knighthood for Timothy Melville-Ross, chairman of the Higher Education Funding Council for England
  • a CBE for Judith Doyle, principal of Gatewhead College
  • an MBE for Paul Berman, Chairman of Trustees at Wargrave House School Merseyside which helps autistic children develop life skills.

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