Author Archives: Elaine Collins

Dr Ross Head to talk at Naidex

Naidex is Europe’s largest disability and independent living event and will take place at the NEC on 25th and 26th April.

We are delighted that Dr Ross Head from our Innovation Centre (CIC) has been asked to speak at such a high profile event. His seminar will take the form of a case study review of three CIC products: a seated tandem surfboard; triathlon equipment which enables a young girl to participate with her father;  a horse riding helmet for a young man with unique head shape. He will also be giving an overview of some the great products his team design and make.

The event is completely free to attend and you can find out more and book your place here.

You can also follow the event on social media #WeAreAble.

Ross graduated in Product Design BSc with first class honours in 2001, and subsequently a PhD in Digital Design Methodology and Glass Product Design at Swansea Metropolitan University. He then became one f the founding members of staff for Cerebra Innovation Centre, whilst lecturing part time within FADE.

Dr Head has expertise in all areas of Product Design, specifically but not limited to design for children with additional needs including R&D, ergonomic studies for children with differing postural and dimensional needs, CAD, field testing, prototyping and manufacture.

He also liaises with industry partners to secure licensing agreements and develop manufactured products.

Furthermore, Dr Head was involved as Company Supervisor for a PhD scholar under the KESS scheme. This revolved around data capture for product concept design for children with additional needs.

Accredited workshops on Accessing Public Services, DLA and Sleep

Guide to claiming disability living allowanceWe are delighted to announce that our workshops on Accessing Public Services, DLA and Sleep have been accredited by the CPD Certification Service.

This means that our information workshops have reached the required Continuing Professional Development standards and benchmarks and that the learning value of each has been examined to ensure integrity and quality.

Our research has shown that families can experience difficulties accessing public services, completing the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) forms and with their children getting a good night’s sleep. Our workshops aim to give families the knowledge, skills and confidence they need to tackle these issues.

Accessing Public Services

While UK law provides powerful rights to accessing health, social care and education support services, the law can be complicated and difficult to understand. Even when you know what your rights are, it can be daunting, exhausting and sometimes intimidating to challenge public officials. This workshop can support you by unpicking potential problems and give you the tools you need to resolve them. The workshop will help you get the best out of our Accessing Public Services Toolkit.


This workshop will help you to use our DLA Guide to complete the DLA claim form. It also looks at the common problem areas, busts some of the myths around DLA and gets you to assess whether you’re getting the correct rate of DLA for your child (if you already claim it). If you’re not, we’ll talk about how to go about challenging the decision. The workshop also takes a brief look at related benefits.


We will help you to understand and support your child’s sleep. The workshop looks at why sleep is so important, what can affect it and strategies to improve problems such as settling, night waking, early rising and sleeping alone. The workshop supports the advice given in our Sleep Guide and by the end of the workshop you should feel more confident to tackle your child’s sleep problem.

If you would like to host one of these workshops please call us on our Freephone number 0800 3281159.

Do you want to see better services for people with neurodevelopmental conditions?

We are working with other charities to understand how we can better support children with brain conditions and their families and we need your help.

We want to understand what life is like for the people we represent. We want to learn about the realities of living with more than one neurodevelopmental condition (diagnosed or not).

Our partners in this project include Autistica, the Neurological Alliance, MQ, Tourettes Action, Afasic, Epilepsy Action and many more. We all want to make sure families are properly supported. Working together we have developed a survey to understand the reality of life with a neurodevelopmental condition. Our goal is to understand what support and services are making a difference and where there are gaps in the help families need.

The more responses we get, the more we will understand about how to improve the support families receive and how we should be targeting our work.

So if you want to see better services for people with neurodevelopmental conditions have your say here.  It would be great if you could also share it with your family, friends and other contacts.

Thank you. Together we can work wonders for children with brain conditions.




James’ trike ride is a winner!

James on his trike

James on his trike

Nine year old James Miles is our latest fundraising Superhero! James raised an incredible £512 for Cerebra so that we can support other children who are living with cerebral palsy.

James spent the summer holidays training for his challenge and, at the end of September, set off on a two mile ride on his specially adapted trike. James showed true determination to complete the ride, which was a huge achievement for him.

His mum Kathryn said “We were overcome by how generous everyone was at the end of last year to enable James to have this fantastic trike and we thank you all from the bottom of our hearts, he has loved riding it. But now it is James’ turn to give something back so we are hoping you can help James raise money for Cerebra”.

Gareth receives a cheque from James

Gareth Owens from Cerebra recently paid a visit to a special school assembly where he met James and his mum and received a cheque for a whopping £512.

Thank you James – your support means that we can help more families who have children with a brain condition to discover a better life together.


Birmingham Experts Launch Pioneering Autism Research

Leading researchers from Birmingham are today (25th October 2017) launching a major, new UK study into autism and mental health problems – and are calling for autistic people and their families to get involved.

The research is a collaboration between leading investigators at the Cerebra Centre for Neurodevelopmental Disorders at the University of Birmingham, Aston University, and leading UK autism research charity, Autistica.

An estimated 56,000 people in the West Midlands are autistic (1,2*) – and nearly eight in ten (79%) will experience a mental health problem (3).

The research will be the first in the UK to develop an assessment tool to distinguish emotional distress caused by anxiety and depression from distress caused by physical health problems, among minimally verbal autistic people with learning difficulties. Autistic people with learning difficulties are more than 40 times more likely to die from a neurological disorder than the general population – and twice as likely to commit suicide (4).

Commenting on the new research, which will be announced at an autism science talk in central Birmingham later today, Dr Jane Waite, Lecturer in Psychology, School of Life and Health Sciences at Aston University, and one of the study’s lead investigators, said: “People living with autism and their families have highlighted that managing mental health problems is their number one priority.  But, until now, the mental health needs of autistic people, particularly those with learning difficulties, have been seriously neglected due to a lack of research and support.”

Chris Oliver, Professor of Neurodevelopmental Disorders and Director of the Cerebra Centre for Neurodevelopmental Disorders, University of Birmingham, said: “People with learning difficulties may be unable to describe how they are feeling and others may think that changes in behaviour and emotions are caused by things other than anxiety and depression. It is therefore essential that we develop better tools to help us detect when autistic people are experiencing distress and mental health problems and ensure services include everyone and they receive timely and effective help.”

Autistica is urging the local autistic community to get directly involved in this and other planned UK research projects by signing up to its autism research network, Discover. Visit . Discover will link the local autistic community with the Birmingham investigators, as well as other top UK research centres.

Jon Spiers, chief executive of Autistica, said: “We are delighted to be working with the Cerebra Centre on this pioneering new research.  By helping more people sign up to take part in autism research projects, we can make sure research addresses the challenges that families and autistic people face, and provide them with the information, services and care that they need.”

Autistica, together with its research partners, aims to recruit 5,000 autistic people, their families and carers to Discover by the end of 2017.


About the Cerebra mental health study

A key objective of the study is to improve the identification of mental health problems in autistic people with learning difficulties, who currently represent over a third (38%) of the UK autistic population. This study focuses on designing a practical and effective assessment tool for use in the clinic to identify anxiety and depression in autistic people with learning difficulties. This important research is a collaboration between the University of Birmingham, Aston University, Coventry University, Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Trust, Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership NHS Trust and the leading UK autism research charity, Autistica.

About the Birmingham Science Talk

The announcement regarding the new Cerebra research will be made at the first of a series of autism events taking place in Birmingham during October and November hosted by Autistica in collaboration with Deutsche Bank. The events are free and anyone can attend. For further details on the talks including location and timings, click here:

About autism

• Autism is a spectrum of developmental conditions. The condition changes the way people communicate and experience the world around them. Every autistic person is different. Some are able to learn, live and work independently but many have learning differences or co-occurring health conditions that require specialist support.
• It is estimated that 1 in every 100 people in the UK is autistic.1,2
• Research suggests that the differences seen in autism are largely genetic, but environmental factors may also play a role.
• There’s currently no ‘cure’ for autism, and indeed that is not a priority for the autism community, but there are a range of specialist interventions that aim to improve communication skills and help with educational and social development.

About Autistica

Autistica is the UK’s leading autism research charity. Autistica’s research is guided by families and autistic individuals, with the aim of building longer, happier, healthier lives for all those living with autism. They support research into autism and related conditions to improve autistic people’s lives and develop new therapies and interventions. Since 2004, Autistica has raised over £12 million for autism research, funding over 40 world-class scientists in universities across the UK. For more information visit: Twitter @AutisticaUK

About the University of Birmingham

The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers, teachers and more than 5,000 international students from over 150 countries.

About Cerebra

Cerebra is the charity that works with families who include children with brain conditions. They listen to them, they learn from them, they work with them. They carry out research, they design and innovate, they make and share. What they discover together makes everyone’s life better. For more information visit their website:

About Aston University

Founded in 1895 and a University since 1966, Aston University has been always been a force for change. For 50 years the University has been transforming lives through pioneering research, innovative teaching and graduate employability success. Aston is renowned for its opportunity enabler through broad access and inspiring academics, providing education that is applied and has real impact on all areas of society, business and industry.


* Figure extrapolated from UK population data for West Midlands
1. Brugha, T. et al., (2011) Epidemiology of Autism Spectrum Disorders in Adults in the Community in England. Archives of General Psychiatry. 68 (5), 459-66.
2. Baird, G., et al., (2006) Prevalence of disorders of the autism spectrum in a population cohort of children in South Thames: the Special Needs and Autism Project (SNAP). Lancet 2006; 368: 210–15
3. Lever, A. G. & Geurts, H. M. (2016) Psychiatric Co-occurring Symptoms and Disorders in Young, Middle-Aged, and Older Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 46, 6, 1916–30
4. Personal Tragedies, Public Crisis: The urgent need for a national response to early death in autism. A Report by Autistica, March 2016. Accessed at:

Cerebra Research Support Network – Help us make a difference

We are looking for people with lived family experience of childhood brain conditions to join our Research Support Network. Can you help us to make a difference?

What is the Research Support Network?

Our Research Support Network is made up of people with lived family experience of childhood brain conditions. That could be as a parent, carer, or sibling or as a young person directly affected. As well as funding research, we work directly with families. By listening to families, we fund research that uncovers knowledge they want. Drawing on research, we help families develop the knowledge, skills and confidence they need to overcome challenges. Our Research Support Network will help us to listen to families and to translate research into resources that help families.

We’re looking for people who:
• are passionate about research and would like to learn more;
• can listen and learn from others;
• are committed to considering and representing the needs of families that have children with brain conditions.

What does it involve?

We need enthusiastic, thoughtful people who want to make a difference. Your role in the Research Support Network will involve reviewing and providing feedback on:
• materials developed by us for parents;
• the impact of our current research projects; and
• grant applications invited by us for funding by Cerebra.

What will you actually do?

As a Research Support Network member you will be invited to review our draft publications, participate in grant application reviews and evaluate the impact of our current research.

Reviewing draft publications will involve reading and commenting on draft publications, within an allotted time frame, before they are finalised. Your views on readability, relevance and presentation will be invited and fed into the final design of the information we provide for families.

Grant reviews will involve reading, evaluating and submitting scores and comments on grant applications within an allotted time frame. Your views will feed into final grant awarding decisions. The applications will contain a detailed summary of the proposed research in plain English and you will be asked to comment on whether the research is relevant and important to children and young people affected by brain conditions.

Evaluating the impact of our current research will involve reviewing documentation and, potentially, site visits.

Most Research Support Network activities can be done from home, but may occasionally involve meetings and site visits. You can volunteer for just one or two of the three activities or all three. This is a voluntary role but out-of-pocket expenses, including travel, subsistence and childcare to attend meetings and site visits, will be paid. You can manage your commitment by limiting how much you want to be involved in. Time constraints will apply to allow us to complete our work and deliver on our commitments in a timely manner.

Are you eligible?

We are looking for people with lived family experience of childhood brain conditions. That could be as a parent, carer, or sibling or as a young person directly affected. You do not need to have a scientific or medical background as all documentation will be written in a ‘plain English’ format.

If you are interested in becoming a member, or just want more information, please contact Georgia Mappa at


Cerebra’s Mission

We believe that every family that includes a child with a brain condition will have the chance to discover a better life together.
We listen to families that have children with brain conditions. We use what they tell us to inspire the best research and innovation. Then we help them put the knowledge into practice so they can discover a better life together.
By ‘brain condition’, we mean any neurodevelopmental disorder (NDD) that affects the developing brain, including those caused by illness, genetics or traumatic injury. Brain conditions include (but are not limited to) autism, ADHD, Down’s syndrome, learning disabilities, cerebral palsy, epilepsy and developmental delay.

Our key values are summed up by three key words:
Positive: our optimism helps families see past every barrier.
Inquisitive: a spirit of relentless discovery drives everything we do.
Together: our researchers, practitioners and families go further when they travel together.

Current clinical practice identifies each condition individually with its own set of identifying characteristics, but many neurodevelopmental disorders (NDD’s) occur together and/or share similar risk factors, behaviours and challenges. Clinical thinking is changing and ‘multi-morbidity’ is accepted as the norm. We work across rather than within NDD’s, giving us a unique perspective within the charity research sector.

Accessing Public Services Toolkit Workshop Facilitators Wanted

toolkit cover image
Would you like the opportunity to help families get the knowledge they need to secure appropriate health, social care and education services to help their disabled child achieve the best possible outcomes?

We’re the charity that works with families who include children with brain conditions. We listen to them, we learn from them, we work with them. We carry out research, we design and innovate, we make and share. What we discover together makes everyone’s life better. Join us on our journey, and who knows what we could find?

Our research shows that disabled people and their families experience great difficulties accessing support services from public bodies. Our Accessing Public Services Toolkit aims to unpick these difficulties and suggest effective strategies for resolving them. It’s based on the idea that it’s not in the best interests of public bodies to have these commonly occurring problems and that most of these problems are capable of being resolved without involving lawyers and great expense.

After receiving such positive feedback on the Toolkit in England, and in response to requests from north of the border, we’ve adapted our Toolkit to make it relevant to Scotland. We now want to roll out workshops across Scotland to assist parent/carers in using this new toolkit. It can be daunting, exhausting and sometimes intimidating to challenge public officials so by running these workshops we want to empower parent/carers to not feel fearful about complaining.

If you are a parent/carer of a child with a brain condition and you’d like to be involved in helping to run these workshops in Scotland then please send an up-to-date CV and covering letter to Beverley Hitchcock  by 5pm on Thursday the 12th October 2017. Full training will be provided, along with a daily rate of £150 (£75 for a half day) and travelling expenses.

You can find full details of the role here. 

You can find out more about our legal work here.

My Experience of Applied Behavioural Analysis

Razwana Mushtaq, whose 5 year old daughter has autism, discusses her experience of getting a diagnosis for her daughter, recent research on early intervention and what it is like running an Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) programme, with the support of UK Young Autism Project (UKYAP)



As parents we want our kids to be happy and independent. We need to support them in order to reach their full potential. As a parent myself, I would do whatever it takes to give my children the best possible. I have four children and do not treat my youngest child, who is five years old now, any different to my other children just because she has autism. I have the same dreams and hopes for her future.

She was delayed in all areas of her development from a very young age and was a very quiet baby. On her first birthday I saw my little girl was enjoying her day, however, over the next twelve months everything changed; her behaviour became different, she started to chew and eat everything in her reach, which could be paper bags, beads, etc. She did not like to be with others as she just would run around and flap her hands, she didn’t make eye contact or respond to her name, she had no language and I didn’t know what to do to get her to sit or play.

She finally got a hearing test at the age of two, which she passed, but the consultant told me to get a referral to a specialist as she was delayed in all areas of her development. I visited my GP to make a referral for further assessments, then things started to move forward at the slowest pace possible and her behaviour was not improving. In the mean time I had a child with difficult behaviours and sleep issues which I didn’t know how to manage. To feel such helplessness without any support, life was as difficult as could be.

We waited for over 9 months for a professional assessment, and in January 2015, a day before her 3rd birthday we finally got a 3 day assessment. It was such a long process, mostly of waiting for appointments with nothing to offer in-between. I felt it was a waste of time that could have been spent on supporting us both in some way. To have the diagnosis of autism confirmed was upsetting indeed, even though I was very much expecting it. But to know your child has disability for life was painful and I felt helpless. I was left not just to deal with her difficulties and behaviours but also without a clue on how to manage all of this. Not one professional mentioned early intervention or anything else to support us. At this point I was losing all hope; I was mentally and physically tired from running after her all day, trying to stop her from eating inedible items and hardly sleeping at night. My other children were all affected and us as a family.

Discovering Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA)

Following the lack of professional support we received, I knew I had to take control of the matter and do something myself. I began to do my own research into autism and how it could be treated. After spending few hours I came across early intensive behavioural intervention (EIBI) and Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA). ABA comprises specific teaching methods developed through extensive research and involves teaching in a systematic manner by breaking down tasks. Intervention is structured so that appropriate behaviours such as play, language and socialisation are maximised through prompting and positive reinforcement.

In a blog by Professor Richard Hastings, ABA for children with autism is described as ‘a values-driven, child-centred, developmentally-informed, evidence-based, effective use of principles of learning to help children with autism achieve their full potential.’ (1)

I decided to start an early intervention programme as soon as possible with my daughter, as she had lost so much time already. Recent research has shown significant gains from early behavioural intervention on children’s early skills (cognitive skills, joint attention, play and stereotypic behaviour), with the greatest gains seen in the children who entered treatment prior to their second birthday. (2)

When my daughter was three, we started the UCLA Young Autism Project model of ABA founded by Dr Lovass (3) as it was a dynamic model and tailored to the needs of the child, while relying on behavioural principles and supported by extensive research (4 ). The programme is specifically focussed on my daughter’s speech and language, communication, play, social and self-help skills.

The only providers in the UK I could find were UK Young Autism Project (UKYAP), who offer ABA trained consultants to design a personalised ABA intervention for the child and give face-to-face supervision and support to help parents and/or tutors implement the programme. The UKYAP consultant made visits every 2 weeks, as my daughter’s needs and the teaching methods used needed to be reviewed often as well as regular evaluation of progress. The programme required at least 35 hours of teaching per week and is best to be done in a homebased setting to begin with. Through this type of early intervention, UK Young Autism Project report that ‘a sizable minority of children have been able to achieve normal educational and intellectual functioning by seven years of age. For those that do not achieve typical levels of functioning, significant improvements in language and other important skills have been achieved, while inappropriate behaviours decreased’ (5 ).

I thought this was totally amazing as some of these children wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach such goals.
I soon found out that this intervention was not cheap. I couldn’t afford to hire tutors so I decided that I would do some of the hours myself and try to get volunteers from the Psychology Department at the local University, which I manged to do. Parental commitment is needed as consistent teaching is important and to follow through and generalise the skills into daily life. My daughter’s programme is now funded by The Giving Tree Foundation for a year and we have weekly visits from the UKYAP consultant and the tutors are provided by UKYAP. This has taken her ABA programme to the next level, with consistent teaching that is much more effective for her learning and huge support for myself.

The progress we saw following ABA

My life changed as I managed my daughter’s ABA programme, liaising with tutors and working towards her targets, but within a week of starting the programme she was sleeping better and she was matching items within a few days. Imitation was the biggest gain I feel she made in the early days of the programme. This was a little girl who couldn’t copy others but now she looks and tries to copy those around her. Each task had to be repeated several times a day and tasks were broken down to help her understand them. The reinforcement used motivated her and any prompts given were faded out. Each day she spent learning at a pace suited to her and we felt the methods were very effective.

She is now catching up on some of her delayed skills including gross motor, fine motor, imitation, some play skills, matching colours, shapes and so much more. She is learning to read and write. She can dress and undress herself. Her eating issues have been resolved and she is now toilet trained. She can sit nicely and do a 20 piece puzzle independently with an adult giving her praise to continue. She has made amazing progress in 2 years. She is beginning to say words and is able to express her needs through PECS and now tries to interact with others, she smiles back and responds to every call of name. We get to see those beautiful eyes staring right at us. All of these are priceless to us, I never thought this would be possible in such short time.
What I learned from my journey is that if you want your child do well in life, you have to take control of the matter yourself. The system does not seem to be offering early intensive behavioural intervention (EIBI) for every child that might benefit from it, when there is clear evidence that it is key from a young age. I strongly believe we need invest into their future now and not in 20 years when billions will need to be spent on the many young adults with autism that will need significant support.

I have struggled in running my daughter’s ABA programme, it has been the biggest challenge of my life but I was not going to let her down and prevent her from having the best education possible. If you find yourself in the same position as me and feel unsupported, I recommend doing some research yourself to find out about evidence based interventions like EIBI.

©Razwana Mushtaq 2017, writing as a parent contributor for the Family Research Ambassadors Project run by the Centre for Education, Development and Research (CEDAR), at the University of Warwick and Cerebra.


1 Hastings, R.P. (2012) What is ABA for children with autism? Prof Hastings’ blog. Available online [Accessed 01 August 2017]
2 MacDonald, R., Parry-Cruwys, D., Dupere, S., Ahearn, W. (2014) Assessing progress and outcome of early behavioural intervention for toddlers with autism. Research in Developmental Disabilities 35, 3632–3644
3 Lovaas, O. I. (1987) Behavioral treatment and normal educational and intellectual functioning in young autistic children. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 55, 3-9.
4 Eldevik, S., Hastings, R.P., Hughes, J.C., Jahr, E., Eikeseth, S., & Cross, S. (2009) Meta-analysis of Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention for children with autism. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 38, 439-450.
5 UK Young Autism Project (2009) Our commitment to providing the most effective treatment for autism [Accessed 01 August 2017]

School Transport Report

The school of law team at the University of Leeds

The school of law team at the University of Leeds

Our student researchers at the School of Law, University of Leeds have published a report about the accuracy and accessibility of school transport information on local authority websites in England.

The students looked at 71 websites and identified serious failings in the information provided to families.  Almost 40% of the websites failed to clearly explain the legal rights of children with special educational needs or disabilities to school transport. The report also highlights how some school transport policies are more restrictive than they should be (see the examples on page 12/13).

You can read the full report here.

If you have a school transport problem, our Parent Guide explains what you can do to solve it.

Disabled Facilities Grants

The school of law team at the University of Leeds

The school of law team at the University of Leeds

Our student researchers at the School of Law, University of Leeds, have published a report on Disabled Facilities Grants and home adaptations.

Disabled children and their families are legally entitled to a grant to pay for necessary adaptations to their home to improve accessibility and independent enjoyment of their surroundings. These are known as Disabled Facilities Grants (DFGs) and are usually for sums up to £30,000. The main aim of our DFG Project is to assess the cost effectiveness of DFGs and the wider impact adaptations have on the disabled child and their families.

The latest report from the team considers the benefits of investing in home adaptations for disabled children, including cost savings and improvements in well-being.

You can read the full report here.