On March 21, the conference “Helping parents to support their children with autism”, held in the framework of the European project “Equity and Social Inclusion through Positive Parenting” (ESIPP), raised awareness about the importance of parent education in autism and shared the work and expertise of the project partners to a wider audience.
More than 90 parents, professionals, students, policy-makers and other stakeholders gathered in Limassol to learn more about education for parents of children with autism in Cyprus, Croatia, and the FYR of Macedonia. Hosted by AASP (Autism Assessment Support Practice), the conference was held in the Panos Solomonidis Hall in Limassol. The ESIPP Parent Education Programme (PEP) and the ESIPP Recommendations for Policy-makers, developed in collaboration with partners from across Europe, were introduced as well.
Partner Nefi Charalambous Darden, co-founder of AASP, welcomed the participants and introduced the perspective of Cypriot parents, given by Andri Sheitani, mother of an autistic child and Elli Sophocleous Maraggou, psychologist working at the Municipality. Dr. David Preece, from the University of Northampton, presented the ESIPP project to the audience and highlighted the key importance of parents training to empower families according to the needs of their specific country.
Partners Ron Fortuna from Target Autism (UK) and Angela Winstanley from AASP introduced the ESIPP PEP, developed in collaboration with partners from across Europe, and explained the evolution and development of the training materials. The conference continued with an example of the PEP, delivered by ESIPP trainers Nefi Charalambous Darden and Stalo Gerolemou from AASP, who explained how to manage sensory sensitivities and challenging behaviour of children with autism.
Dr. Jasmina Troshanska, Vice-President of Macedonian Scientific Society for autism, explained the situation for autism in the FYR of Macedonia and the great impact of the ESIPP project according to families’ feedback. Croatian Special Education Teacher Ana Ružić from the Centar za Autizam, shared with parents from Cyprus their experience with regards to the project and explained how they supported parents in developing individual strategies for their autistic children. All these presentations from FYR of Macedonia, Croatian and also testimonies from Cypriot parents were supported with videos aiming at sharing testimonies given by different parents who have already participated in the different ESIPP training sessions.
The final part of the conference was devoted to the presentation of the ‘ESIPP Recommendation for Policy-makers’ document and video. Dr David Preece and partner Aurélie Baranger from Autism-Europe (Belgium) insisted on the need for parent training across Europe to improve the lives of autistic people.
Prior to this event, a roundtable discussion was held to highlight the importance of providing ESIPP training after the project’s completion and how to ensure its sustainability. ESIPP partners attending the meeting highlighted the high interest from attendees and the importance of seeing representatives of women, parents and teachers’ organisations all in agreement regarding the value of the ESIPP PEP, talking of working together to support ongoing training. Teacher representatives also spoke of how valuable such training would be to teachers in schools across Cyprus. Participants remarked upon the value of the project outcomes and, in the case of higher education institutions, offered their support to enable the hosting of training sessions.
Discussions were led by:
- Leontia Pavlidou, Inspector at the Department of Special Education for the Cypriot Ministry of Education;
- Maria Kambanaros, President of the Speech and Language Rehabilitation Center of the Cyprus University of Technology;
- Iacovos Valanides, President of the NGO Parents Association and Day Care for People with Disabilities;
- Sofia Georgiou, Secretary of Office at the Women Organization POGO and Limassol Town Counselor for the Municipality of Limassol;
- Vasilis Vasiliou, School Superintendent of the Kato Polemidia Area;
- Litsa Charalambous, Managing Director of the Training and Education center for adults with Disabilities in Limassol;
- Maraggou Elli Sofocleous, Head Psychologist of the Department of Psychology at the Municipality;
- Ioanna Petrou, Constantinos Michael and Antonis Vrasidas from the Cyprus Teachers’ Union;
- Irena Anastasiou, private educational psychologist;
- Dr Machi Cleanthous, private child psychiatrist;
- ESIPP coordinators Dr David Preece and Paul Bramble from the University of Northampton (UK);
- ESIPP partners Loizos Symeou and Eleni Theodorou from the European University Cyprus;
- ESIPP partner Nefi Charalambous Darden, co-founder of the Autism Assessment Support Practice.
On the occasion of these events, the eighth transnational meeting was also held, hosted by AASP (Autism Assessment Support Practice), running until March 23. ESIPP partners have worked in groups on various subjects related to the project, including evaluation of the quantitative and qualitative data collected throughout the project’s lifespan, the improvement of the next parent training sessions (by establishing new settings and trainings, and identifying and addressing local issues regarding structure, differentiation and emphasis), the development of the Autism Parent Training Roadmap, the launch of the ESIPP Recommendations for policy-makers and the sustainability of the project.