FestABLE, 2nd June 2018

Main stage at Festable

I am so pleased that a few weeks ago I saw an advert on Twitter for FestABLE, the National Festival of Specialist Learning, I am even more pleased that I took the kids with me.

I had not heard of the National Star College in Cheltenham but based on my experience today – what a wonderful place and a great choice of venue for FestABLE.

Across the day there was a great selection of keynote presentations, workshops, discussions and drop in sessions.  It was lovely to have a wide range of speakers to choose from.   There was also a number of market stalls across the site, my son was very pleased to collect his character from EDF Energy after collecting the stickers from all the different stands.

The point of difference today was that this really was a festival rather than your usual conference.  There was so much laid on for everyone that attended, thankfully the sun was shining so it could all be enjoyed.  I saw some great music and at lunchtime there was a great crowd of people dancing.  There was lots of entertainment from Punch and Judy to falconry and a fire engine, as everything was spread out across the campus nothing felt crowded which was a real plus for my son.

Presentations & Speakers

Unfortunately I missed the opening keynote presentation but this gave me more time to explore with my family.  The first presentation I attended was by Laura Wilby about the LEAP early autism intervention programme. An Educational Psychologist at Surrey County Council she shared her experience of setting up what sounds like a fantastic local service for young children with autism.  Fortunately we have had a fairly good experience of support for my son after he got diagnosed in our local area but that’s definitely not the case everywhere so sharing this good practice is great. I have learnt a little about SCERTS and Intensive Interaction from Laura’s session and plan to go away and find out more about both of these and make sure my LA has heard of the LEAP service.

After a quick break and visit to the circus sensory space with the kids I attended Professor Caroline Rowland’s presentation on How Children Learn Language.  As a mother of a child with significant speech and language issues and another with a significant delay I found this very interesting.  It is always helpful to break down all the smaller steps to forming language and see how complex it really is – and how amazing.  Another good reminder was that we very rarely say what we actually mean, this can be so difficult for some people to understand.  I will definitely look at the LuCID (language and communication development) centre website.

After lunch (very tasty hog roast in the sunshine), I attended a presentation / discussion by Martha Currie, Mary Hartshorne, Dannii Keenan, Wendy Lee and Stephen Parsons on What is the Future for Speech and Language Support.  A fantastic session with some really important points relating to the need to embed speech and language support in education.  There was an interesting discussion about using technology to provide speech and language support called Mable therapy which I am keen to learn more about.  The session also highlighted how important it is to identify students with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD), a relatively new term but a disorder that affects around 2 children in every class of 30.  Too often children are classed as having a behavioural issue and the language difficulty is then not addressed or supported. The session highlighted the Bercow: 10 years on report and recommendations to government, this really is an important set of recommendations for the government to hopefully take forward so please sign the petition. 

The closing keynote speakers were Barney Angliss and Sally Phillips, what a fabulous pair of very passionate speakers to end the first FestABLE.  Barney spoke about the importance of parents and professionals coming together and having the same conversation and how moving forward decisions should not be made behind closed doors.  It was lovely to hear Sally speak so openly and honestly about being a parent of a child with specialist needs and I think she resonated with many of us parents in the room, I have certainly learnt all about ‘communicating without words’. I was interested to hear more about Genome sequencing, NIPT and Genome editing.  I also agree with the comments about ‘societies standards are bogus’ and if only everyone could see that in the same way.

This was a unique event but as pointed out by the organisers it shouldn’t be, if parents and professionals were able to come together at local events like this everywhere it would be fantastic.  I will be looking forward to the next FestABLE in 2020.

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