In Coronavirus Funding Impact Stories, Funding Stories, Physical & mental health, wellbeing & safety

Project: Continuing to support children with autism and other communication difficulties and their families during the coronavirus outbreak
Grant: £5,000
Fund: Bucks Coronavirus Response Appeal

The Puzzle Centre is a charity promoting and delivering early intervention for young children with autism or communication difficulties. With the outbreak of coronavirus, the Puzzle Centre had to furlough the majority of their staff and needed to find new ways to support children with autism and other communication difficulties and their families.

Puzzle Centre’s online ‘Circle Time’ resource

Before the outbreak, the children that the Puzzle Centre supports either attended their specialist Puzzle Centre Nursery or received support via their Autism Early Support outreach services at home or in their educational setting.

During the lockdown, whilst they were unable to give physical support to the children, the Puzzle Centre retained a small team comprising of a member of staff providing family support, a Specialist Teacher and an Occupational Therapist who would be able to provide remote therapy tailored to the individual child’s and their family’s needs.

With the help of their £5,000 grant from the Bucks Coronavirus Repsonse Appeal, all families were able to be offered online home support and remote ‘teletherapy’ from this team, with 90% of the Puzzle Centre’s nursery families accepting the service. Some families requested weekly or fortnightly phone or zoom calls, followed up by an email with practical guidance to support the child’s learning and development, while for others the team made every effort to meet statutory requirements for a child’s ongoing education, such as reports and online assessments for their Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP).

Ella Millerchip’s Circle Time videos

With the support of their funding, the Puzzle Centre were also able to create online resources to support the children’s home schooling. Specialist Teacher Ella Millerchip created Circle Time videos posted to the charity’s social media to simulate nursery sessions; a time when children are guided through various stimulating activities which they can join at a level appropriate to their stage of development.

In addition to supporting the children, it was also becoming clear to staff at the Puzzle Centre that parents needed help during the isolation of lockdown and coping with the drastic changes to their child’s routine and the repercussions that brings to their child’s behavior. Staff therefore facilitated two online parent support groups for some of their existing nursery parents, each monitored by a Masters research student from the University of Buckingham who developed a survey for parents of children aged 2-11 years to better understand how COVID-19 is impacting their confidence and their abilities as parents to deliver what is required for their child.

“On behalf of the children, parents and staff who ordinarily receive our Autism Early Support services… we would like to thank the Hearts of Bucks grants panel for reviewing our recent application and kindly confirming that we will receive a grant of £5,000 from the Bucks Coronavirus Appeal, to help us to provide ongoing support during the COVID-19 pandemic… We are extremely grateful for the financial support Heart of Bucks has contributed to enable us to support children with autism and their families whilst in lockdown”.

– Sarah Dolder, Fundraising Manager