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Anna’s guest this week on ‘All things Autism’ at Women’s Radio was Lucy Smith

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Anna Kennedy’s guest this week on Women’s Radio Station was Lucy Smith.
‘All things Autism” will be aired at 1pm and 1am every day this week.  Please see www.womensradiostation.com

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This week I took some time out to talk with Anna Kennedy OBE. It is not often that someone asks me to talk for an hour but that is what I did, and boy, was it great to talk!

Speaking with Anna gave me chance to reflect on how life has changed and what has happened since that day in 2017 when we were told “Your child is autistic”.

At the time I was working full time in the National Crime Agency, travelling around the country, and trying to keep everything together as a Mum, Wife and professional with a successful and exciting career.

I enjoyed my job very much but at home things were difficult. Our eldest was struggling with what we thought was anxiety and depression at just 9 years old it got quite serious – we waited 2 years to access help through CAMHS (the child and adolescent mental health service) which is when we were lucky enough to get a diagnosis. Access to mental health support for under 10’s is pretty limited in Bristol.

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I realised I needed to make some changes in my life which led me to a new role as a Change Manager at the University of Bristol.

This was a fantastic job, being a change manager is a natural fit for me, someone who likes to solve problems and who is very much a people person.

I also took on a role as an Associate Trainer with The Girl With The Curly Hair, a social enterprise that supports individuals on the autistic spectrum and the people around them.

I began hosting training events which was incredibly rewarding. At the same time, I was working with a friend to explore the potential of establishing a school or some kind of alternative provision for autistic young people in Bristol.

My eldest child came out as transgender in 2019 which although a surprise has brought positive changes in his mental health. As a trainer for The Curly Hair Project, I now specialise in gender dysphoria and autism and host a regular webinar on the topic.

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Life continued to throw challenges at us as a family, we were advised to seek a diagnosis for our younger son based on our work with CAMHS.

We were not shocked when he also received a diagnosis in the last week of primary school in 2019 – we celebrated his diagnosis but, because of the impact on what the near future had in store, plus the fact that we were also caring for my elderly mother-in-law, I broke, so did my Husband.

We both were able to access talking therapy through our employers so took it up. This led me to reflect on how to cope moving forward so I resigned from the University to focus on re-building our family and myself.

Not being one to give up I looked for ways to help our family and others. It took a while to recover from breaking point in 2019 but by January 2020 I was ready to take on the world again and set up my own company called “Inclusive Change” hoping to make a difference for autistic adults and young people in the workplace.

​Our first project as Inclusive Change has been to open a shop that will become a work experience venue for autistic young people.

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We opened Your Village Shop in March 2020 and have created an amazing shop within a retirement village complex. We have already made a difference to so many lives and hope to do more with plans to set up our work experience programme in 2021.

For more information about Inclusive Change visit inclusivechange.co.uk.

Visit https://yourvillageshop.com/to find out more about our autism and dementia friendly shop.

If you want to learn more about The Curly Hair Project visit www.thegirlwiththecurlyhair.co.uk where you will be able to learn about the resources available including articles, books, and training.

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