"The last thing I expected upon arrival at Mycenae House was to be having so much fun dancing! - but that was exactly what happened, along with a selection of thought provoking and engaging talks at this year's MEfA Family and Professional Conference."
At the 2012 MEfA Montessori Conference for Families and Professionals several expert speakers were called upon to deliver interesting and insightful lectures on subjects as diverse as Nutrition for Children with Special Needs to the merits of Montessori Dance Therapy - with a heavy focus on audience participation for the latter!
The day started off with coffee and croissants and a friendly meet-and-greet for the conference attendees, who came from far and wide to attend - some even making the trip to London from Yorkshire! After this, Academic Director Wendy Fidler gave a brief welcome and an update on the charity's activities before launching into a lecture discussing the rise in the number of Children with Special Needs, which touched upon a variety of interesting topics including the benefits of Montessori education for children with special needs, especially those who are on the autistic spectrum, and the problem with the UK's 'one size fits all' curriculum and 'inclusion'.
The next fascinating lecture was delivered by London-based children's nutritionist Jenny Edelstein, who gave a talk on how altering the diet of children with autistic spectrum disorders can really help to improve their quality of life. Jenny first became aware of the idea that nutrition could have a positive effect on autistic children when she was told that her son was on the spectrum. The tale of her journey from sceptic to full on convert, along with her first-hand experience of just how beneficial dietary intervention can be -so much so that neither her son's friends or teachers know about his early diagnosis - made this a particularly wonderful talk and one that we're certain everyone enjoyed.
After a short break for lunch, Ali Golding - choreographer, movement coach, performance facilitator and MEfA graduate - had everyone out of their seats to burn off those excess calories with a very practical demonstration of Montessori Dance Therapy. Everyone responded with gusto and had a lot of fun dancing around the conference hall, while the techniques demonstrated and the benefits they could have for children on the autistic spectrum generated an interesting discussion between the attendees about how to put these techniques into action in their homes and classrooms.
Once everyone had caught their breath, we settled down to watch a heart-warming film based upon the development and achievements of Montessori children in Norway before Wendy delivered her second lecture of the day on the subject of Visual Inspection skills. This focused on 'school readiness' - ensuring that a child's communication and language skills are at the right level for when he or she begins school. During the talk Wendy gave some practical tips and some excellent 'do's and dont's' for the parents at the conference who had young autistic children not yet of school age.
The final talk of the day - once it was extracted from an awkward memory stick! - came from Dr Janet Bjørn; an esteemed child consultant and adolescent neuro-psychiatrist. She discussed the topic of Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) mimicking Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), drawing from her own experiences over many years as a paediatric psychiatrist, and told us some truly heart-breaking stories about children she had worked with who had suffered brain injuries and had been wrongly diagnosed with autism, so similar are the symptoms in some cases.
The conference was then rounded off with a Q&A session in which the attendees were invited to ask any questions they had to the expert panel. This resulted in a thought provoking and lively discussion, during which many attendees shared their personal experiences of dealing with autism in their own children or with children they had worked with.
All the speakers were given a gift by one of the school's students to show MEfA'S appreciation to them for giving up their time to come and talk at this year's conference.
Wendy Fidler, MEfA's academic director, was effusive in her praise for her fellow speakers at this year's conference and of the conference as a whole; "We certainly enjoyed all the speaker's presentations and judging from some of the stunning feedback we've received, we're sure everyone else did too."
From my own point of view, this year's conference was an overwhelming success; packed with interesting talks and discussions, an unexpected dance class, and a lot of fun. I'm definitely booking my place for next year!
Richard Chapman firstname.lastname@example.org