Wigan borough mum inspired by her son to help other children with special needs

A mum of two who changed careers when her toddler son was diagnosed with autism has launched a new enterprise to help other parents and children.
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Gaynor Kirrane’s son Harrison was just two years old he was diagnosed with autism and she knew very little about it.

She said: “It was a completely new world to me. I wasn’t familiar with it at all and didn’t see the signs. I thought he was just a bit anti-social.

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"It brought me to a completely new place with lots of stress.

Gaynor Kirrane with son Harrison, 11Gaynor Kirrane with son Harrison, 11
Gaynor Kirrane with son Harrison, 11

"But I’m one of the lucky ones, because it took me 18 months to get the diagnosis, but I came from an industry where I used to have to be very assertive, so it didn’t take as long as a lot of my friends and people I know, who are waiting to be diagnosed after three, four, five years.”

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The diagnosis led to Gaynor changing careers, leaving her job as a manager in the travel industry and going to volunteer at her son’s school, before qualifying as a specialist teaching assistant for children with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND).

“I wanted to learn as much as I could about what this meant for my son to support him,” she said.

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After qualifying, she worked as supply staff at her son’s school and set up a parents’ group where people could get support and share their experiences.

Gaynor, 51, who lives in Tyldesley, said: “It was somewhere parents could go for respite and to ask questions.

"You can imagine what it’s like when your child gets a diagnosis of autism and global development delay – it come with a lot of questions – but unfortunately when he got the diagnosis, all the services signed us off.

"I wanted to create a parents’ group and it was very successful.”

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Gaynor left the school to take up a permanent post at a mainstream primary school in Leigh, which she described as “amazing”.

She supports pupils with SEND there, but still wanted to do more to help other parents and children.

Gaynor said: “I have always had the burning feeling that I wanted to do something. I had a lot of ideas for the parents’ group that I could bring into fruition.

"Working with children with special needs and having a child with special needs meant a lot of people would ask my advice. There are so many people I have given information and support to help them on their journey, when they weren’t being signposted to different people. There are charities out there to help, but no-one knows about them.”

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Inspired by all the questions she was being asked, Gaynor decided to launch SenSability on March 1 so parents and carers can share information to help their children.

She said: “It has lots of arms and legs and there are things I haven’t even launched yet, because I keep getting pulled in different directions.

"I have a podcast that I launched called Chaos and Calm and there are parents on there, adults with autism, people I have worked with who didn’t even know they had autism.

"There are a lot of different aspects and I have a lot of shows recorded but not published yet.”

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Gaynor also offers MAD training (Making a Difference) to help people and businesses get a better understanding of supporting those with SEND.

She was approached by Open Air Bounce – an outside inflatables park in Over Hulton, Bolton – about holding an inclusive event and she suggested many ways this could be done.

The first event was held on Saturday and it is hoped it will become a regular event, with Open Air Bounce also now sponsoring SenSability.

Gaynor said: “They wanted someone to give them support to make their facilities SEND-inclusive. It’s not just turning music down and reducing numbers to make it a SEND-accessible place, they wanted to do it properly.

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"I have been working with them in the last few months to get strategies in place so when children do attend the sessions, they will feel at home as everything has been done to accommodate their needs.”

Among Gaynor’s suggestions were dark tents and quiet tents, lanyards with visuals for people who are non-verbal and accessible toilets, while she also provided basic SEND training for staff.

"There’s a lot where we have gone over and above what most places will do,” she said.

Gaynor is keen to ensure there are places for young people with SEND, such as her son Harrison, who is now 11.

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She said: “It can be very isolating. I’m the kind of SEND parent who will let him try something and if it works, fantastic, but if not, it doesn’t. But there are a lot of SEND parents who are too scared to try new things.

"This is something where they actively want to provide for children with special needs.”

Gaynor, who also has a 17-year-old son, has big plans for SenSability, but first she hopes to secure more sponsors and funding.

"I do what I can, when I can, but I don’t have the funds to put it all out there at the same time,” she said.

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"It’s bringing awareness to the podcast and to SenSability and MAD training and if I get companies employing me to do the training, I can invest that money in expanding services.

"I would love to be able to invest money in SEND schools in future too.”

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