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This week’s guest on Anna Kennedy’s live radio show ‘All Things Autism’ at Women’s Radio Station was Mandy Aulak.
Mandy is a mother to six-year-old Swaran. At age three, Swaran was diagnosed with autism. Prior to his diagnosis, Mandy had a successful career working in the city as a solicitor specialising in all aspects of employment law. Her son’s diagnosis changed her life forever; as she explained to Anna, it felt like a ‘kick in the stomach’.
For the next two years, Mandy put her career on hold and focused on her son, and like most parents of children with autism, Mandy went on any courses that she could to learn more about autism and how she could help him.
One of the techniques that Mandy has found to be highly effective in developing Swaran’s communication (he was non-verbal two years ago) is the picture exchange communication system (PECS).
Mandy explained to Anna how she attended a level 1 workshop run by Pyramid Educational Consultants who are the creators behind the PECS protocol, and this is something she encourages all parents of children who have been recommended to use PECS to do.
Mandy described to Anna the six phases of the PECS protocol and how each step builds and extends communication skills. She credits this system as being the reason behind her son’s speech which has developed significantly over the last two years.
Mandy told Anna that once her son Swaran was settled at school, she turned her attention to her own career. She found that working full-time as a city lawyer which can involve long unpredictable hours, was not compatible with her caring responsibilities and any part-time positions simply did not offer the flexibility that she required.
During her career break, she had been drawn to the legal aspects of her son’s education, and specifically in ensuring that his education health and care plan (EHCP) correctly and specifically identified his special educational needs (SEN) and contained the relevant quantifiable provision to meet those needs.
It was this experience which sparked her interest in SEN law and she found that she wanted to be able to practice in this area too. This led Mandy to the conclusion that setting up a law firm was the only realistic option that would provide her with the flexibility she required while utilising her skill set.
Therefore, in November 2017 she co-founded Talem Law, a virtual niche practice specialising in employment and SEN law. In her SEN practice, Mandy advises parents who are appealing the contents of their child’s EHCP and will help them navigate their way through the legal framework. In her employment practice, Mandy continues to advise on all areas and is particularly interested in disability in the workplace.
Mandy explained to Anna when the obligation to make reasonable adjustments is triggered and talked through some examples which may be particularly beneficial to those with autism such as a quiet room may be required by an employee with autism who has sensory processing dysfunction and needs a quiet room to focus at various points in the day.
She also talked through the importance of considering whether reasonable adjustments need to be made in the recruitment process. Mandy regards training of autism in the workplace as an increasingly important issue, as Mandy says: ‘Our children with autism are the employees of tomorrow,’ so it is vital that employers have autism awareness.
Dr Anna Kennedy OBE is an educator who has worked to provide an improved education and other facilities for children with autism spectrum disorders.
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