Southend Early Autism Support (SEAS) is a homegrown, seven-week course for mums and dads of pre-school children who have or are going through a diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder.

SEAS provides an opportunity for parents to meet professionals who can share vital information, tips and techniques to help them understand their individual child better and support their development.

Eileen Sardi, Early Years SEN advisor who developed the programme, says: “SEAS started 12 years ago when we brought in the Good Beginnings programme from Essex.

“We realised we could develop it and extend it so that we were introducing professionals to parents before they are offered formal appointments”.

“Southend is so small that professionals know each other and this is a huge benefit when it comes to making referrals and eliciting support for the programme. SEAS is a wonderful example of good collaboration between education and health, and professionals love being involved and knowing all the children by name.”

SEAS courses take place in small groups in a warm, welcoming, non-judgmental atmosphere, with tea and biscuits and a crèche. The course covers a whole range of subjects including understanding autism, play and sensory, communication, sleeping, eating and behaviour.

The course gives dads and mums a wealth of practical and affordable ideas to stimulate their children, to calm them, or to establish better sleep patterns, such as:

  • Buying sensory materials and toys from factory shops rather than expensive specialist shops.
  • Putting up blackout blinds and using sensory lights if they wake in the night.
  • Teaching children to introduce new foods into their diet, and learning how to chew.

One of the huge benefits of the course is that all parents are going through the same thing together and are facing similar challenges.  Many will have experienced being judged in the supermarket or are struggling to manage their child’s sleep, for example. Friendships develop from the course, and this can be a vital source of on-going support for parents.

One mum said “I don’t want the course to end because I feel the support is so useful to me as a parent.” Another said: “I learned how to help my son with his development and understand him. It has given me hope and motivated me in new ways.”

As for the future, Eileen says she wants to develop a resource bank so that parents can try out different sensory toys before they buy them.

SEAS may also offer a Saturday or evening course so that more working dads and mums – and other family members – can attend and think about their child together in a calm and structured environment.

SEAS is a very special course and maybe there is even scope to develop it as a national resource for families across the UK? Watch this space…