Autism course has given Izzy a ‘voice’

Lesley McConnell and her granddaughter Izzy, who she has been able to help thanks to the Barnardos cygnet programme for autism
Lesley McConnell and her granddaughter Izzy, who she has been able to help thanks to the Barnardos cygnet programme for autism
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Blackpool families affected by autism are among thousands whose lives have been turned around thanks to an innovative programme developed by children’s charity Barnardo’s.

Woodlands Special School on Whitegate Drive uses the Cygnet parenting programme which has provided support for more than 2,500 families nationally since it was created 10 years ago.

Lesley McConnell, of South Shore, says the course has changed her family’s lives by giving her five-year-old granddaughter Izzy, who is non-verbal, a voice.

Mrs McConnell said: “Izzy had many melt downs on a daily basis due to sheer frustration at not being able to communicate her needs.

“Waking in the night and not being able to tell us what was wrong and the fact Izzy doesn’t feel pain so she can’t tell us if she’s hurt, was extremely difficult and upsetting.”

Mrs McConnell was told about the Barnardo’s Cygnet programme being run at The Together Centre, a children’s centre that supports families of disabled children and young people across Blackpool.

She decided to attend to gain more information about autism so she could support the family including her daughter, Izzy’s mum.

She said: “All the sessions were useful but the session on communication was particularly brilliant.

“Making routine cards and choice boards massively helped at home in helping to give Izzy a voice.

“She has a new communication book now which is more conversational and she enjoys using it to tell people what she wants or how she is feeling.

“It’s improved Izzy’s self esteem and given us, as a family, more confidence.”

Izzy, who also lives in South Shore, with her parents Gary and Freyja and her siblings Ethan 12, and Phoebe, seven, is a pupil at Woodlands School.

Head teacher Cole Andrew said: “We have successfully worked with many families from across the Blackpool community and built relationships that have benefited children both in the short and long term. 

“My vision would be to see these relationships build even further amongst different agencies to help achieve the best for Blackpool children.”

Cygnet programmes are based on listening to the needs of parents and young people and involving them in development and delivery.

Andy Morris from Barnardo’s Cygnet Service said: “We’re delighted the Cygnet programmes are having such a positive impact on the lives of the children and families.

“The hard work and dedication of those who have developed the programmes along with the families and young people who have inputted to ensure its success, makes us feel incredibly proud.”

Blackpool Council’s cabinet member for school improvement Coun John Jones, said: “The Together Centre at Woodlands School offers a really excellent level of care and support to all the children and families who use it.

“We are proud in Blackpool to support the Cygnet programme, which does exceptionally positive work so children like Izzy can grow up to achieve their full potential in life, while her parents and grandparents receive the support necessary to help them along the way.”