2017 Winners

Awards for an Individual

The Axcis Award for Achievement by an Individual Education Professional

Winner: Shannon Coles, STARS

Shannon has been working with children with autism for over forty years, initially as a teacher in special schools but more recently as an outreach teacher and Autism Education Trust trainer with STARS, a Leeds Children's Services outreach team. Shannon is now retired, but still involved with families who have 'slipped through the net' for one reason or another, and with a monthly social group for young people with Asperger's.




Lifetime Achievement Award

Winner: Dr Dinah Murray

In 1990, a friend lent Dinah Uta Frith’s ‘Autism, the enigma.’ This led to an ‘Aha!’ moment which set the scene for the rest of her life. With a background in philosophy, anthropology and linguistics, in Dinah’s model of mind as interest system- long before the team ‘neurodiversity’ was coined- autism is clearly defined as a natural part of the whole human range.

Some of her many activities and campaigns include:

  • Autism and computing with Mike Lesser to campaign for access to IT for all
  • 1995 documentary film about young autistic artist Ference Virag, his extraordinarily rapid grasp of animation and his desire to share his creations.
  • Autistic people Against Neuroleptic Abuse in 1998 to campaign successfully against excessive use of psychotropic medications.
  • Distance tutor for Birmingham Univeristy
  • The Posautive Youtube group founded in 2005
  • 2008/9 the Something About Us film made with many autistic voices.
  • Advisor and contributor to Ask Autism for The National Autistic Society
  • Raised funds to develop the Autistic Space Kit app launched in 2016

Dinah has contributed an immeasurable amount over the years, books, books chapters, papers, presentations and talks, including Scottish Autism’s Right Click programme for women and girls. She supports, guides, advises and mentors throughout the autism community.

Since 2015 Dinah has been involved with the National Autism Project, founded by Dame Steve Shirley, a role that has included establishing and co-ordinating the invaluable Autistic Advisory Panel.

All the Dinah has achieved has followed on from an initial idea of mind which addressed the full humanity and natural diversity of all people, autistic and not.

Award for Outstanding Achievement by an Individual on the Autism Spectrum

Winner: Caroline Hearst, AutAngel/ Autism Matters

Caroline Hearst trained as an art psychotherapist.  She self-identified and achieved a diagnosis of autism in later adulthood, after years of personal therapy. Caroline credits her discovery that she is autistic with enabling her to understand herself and transform her life.
Caroline is passionate about contributing to culture change in relation to autism.  

Her Autism Matters training sessions help autistic adults and health and social practitioners to identify and understand autism.  She has  developed and facilitated an innovative peer support and education programme for people identifying as autistic or wondering if they might be autistic. The pilot of this programme was recently evaluated led by researchers at Goldsmiths, University of London and received overwhelmingly positive feedback.

Caroline is the founder and a director of of AutAngel community interest company, and edited their sellout book Being Autistic. Caroline regularly presents at Autscape,  and serves on Reading’s Autism Partnership Board. 


Award for Most Inspirational Volunteer

Winner: Jane Frost, ASSERT Brighton and Hove

Jane is the mother of a 37 year old man with Asperger Syndrome (AS), who was diagnosed at 16. Since 2001, Jane has supported adults with AS of or High Functioning Autism (HFA) in a voluntary capacity through the charity ASSERT (B&H) which she helped found. Although she has found the work frustrating at times, Jane has enjoyed celebrating the many achievements and successes of people she has supported. Whilst Jane is less actively involved these days, she still supports 5 adults on the spectrum all of whom she has known for over 14 years.


Award for Outstanding Healthcare Professional

Winner: Dr Helen Pearce, Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust

Dr Helen Pearce is a Consultant Psychiatrist working within Tees Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust (TEWV).  She is dual trained within the sub-specialties of child and adolescent psychiatry and learning disability psychiatry with particular training and expertise in the Autism Spectrum.

Helen has extensive experience in autism. This has been within children's mental health services, learning disability services, adult mental health services and within forensic services.

She currently works as consultant psychiatrist within the forensic service. Helen is the responsible clinician for the specialist autism-specific medium-secure inpatient unit (for autism and asperger syndrome).

Helen regularly provides autism training for professionals both locally and nationally.


Team Awards

Award for Inspirational Education Provision - Primary Schools

Winner: Birtenshaw School

In 2016, Birtenshaw School celebrated its Diamond Anniversary as a non-maintained special school for children with moderate to severe learning disability, Autistic spectrum conditions, significant physical impairment and / or complex health needs. Birtenshaw’s primary provision offers a “child centred” approach to learning with a focus on developing communication, self-awareness and social interaction skills. The children are happy and thrive in an environment where staff are able to harness creative curiosity. The learning day is adapted for each child through clear routines and structured lessons where individualised learning objectives are met through play, intensive interaction and sensory learning and supported by therapeutic sessions such as hydrotherapy, rebound therapy and sensory integration.  The curriculum also has plenty of space for practical activities such as yoga, pony-riding and other offsite activities or bringing learning to life outside in the mud kitchen or outdoor classroom. Importantly, every achievement is celebrated no matter how small it may appear to others.

Award for Inspirational Education Provision - Secondary School & post-16 provision

Winner: Coping with University Life, Ulster University

Monique Harte and Dr Greg Kelly are both occupational therapists teaching on the BSc (Hons) Occupational Therapy programme at Ulster University.  Dr Kelly is also Course Director for the Postgraduate Certificate/Diploma/MSc in Sensory Integration run in partnership with Sensory Integration Network (UK and Ireland).  In 2014, they were awarded funding from Ulster University for a widening access project aimed at easing transition into higher education and developing strategies to reduce stress and promote positive coping for young people with autism. They developed a new Continuing Personal and Professional Development module – Coping with University Life Using Mindfulness and Sensory Strategies - and participants were offered fee-free places. Following the success of the first project, they gained funding from the Garfield Weston Trust to run it for a second year and plan to run it for another year with support from the Centre for Flexible and Continuing Education.






Award for Inspirational Education Provision - Other Education Providers

Winner: Creative Learning Team, Sunderland Empire Theatre

Over the past 4 years, the Creative Learning team at Sunderland Empire have strived to deliver unique projects with the autism community, both at Sunderland Empire and through outreach across the Sunderland area. The key remit for these projects is to deliver interesting, leading and exceptional work in autism access and creative learning engagement.

In 2015, the Creative Learning team were successful in achieving Arts Council funding to support ‘Get Curious!’ This ASD Family Learning project was delivered in Partnership with National Theatre and their acclaimed production the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, supported by local cultural organisations from across Sunderland.

Over the past year alone, the team have supported 1239 in accessing as audiences at Relaxed and Supported experience performances, and 723 instances of people with Autism accessing creative learning.

The astounding outcomes of this very special project based learning have resulted in the identification across the UK of this project as a unique example of best practise. The close working relationships forged continue to grow and the Creative Learning team have developed an Autism-specific youth theatre in collaboration with No Limits Theatre.

Award for Outstanding Adult Services

Winner: Step into Work Plus, Autism Together

Step Into Work Plus has been a Big Lottery funded scheme from North West charity Autism Together. Its ambition was to reach people on the autism spectrum who fell into the gap between extra care funding and employment. Small teams of students have learned about workplace conduct, how to use public transport, how to dress for business and even how to run their own micro business. The experience has been life-changing for many of the 126 young adults who have taken part. Forty two are now in paid employment, 19 are in voluntary roles and seven are in full-time education. 





Award for Outstanding Health Services

Winner: National Adult Outpatient Neurodevelopmental Clinic, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust

The service covers ASC and ADHD as well as various genetic conditions, and is staffed by a dedicated team of doctors, nurses, psychologists, neurodevelopmental specialists, managers and administrators. The team dedicates itself to providing gold-standard and patient-centred diagnostic assessments at a national level; with bespoke recommendations for each patient with options to be followed up locally or in the national service if necessary. The clinic maintains strong links with the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (IoPPN) and a genetics team at Guy’s to make sure the latest research can inform their clinical work and directly help improve people’s lives. They also provide training and advice to other services and professionals in order to make sure care provided for those with ASC is of the highest quality possible.



Award for Outstanding Family Support

Winner: Parent to Parent, The National Autistic Society

Parent to Parent is the NAS’ UK-wide confidential telephone service providing emotional support to parents and carers of autistic children and adults. The service is provided by 20 trained parent volunteers, who are all parents of autistic children and adults aged between eight and 43. They offer other parents and carers the opportunity to talk through any issues, problems or feelings they are experiencing and also signpost them to further sources of information and support.

The volunteers offer telephone support from their own homes around the UK and are asked to give two hours a week to the service, but many often give a lot more. They use their own personal experience of autism and the impact it has on their families, to support others in similar situations. Several of the current volunteers called Parent to Parent themselves and now want to ensure that other parents get the support that they very much appreciated.


Award for Most Supportive Employer

Winner: Step into Work Plus, Autism Together

Step Into Work Plus has been a Big Lottery funded scheme from North West charity Autism Together. Its ambition was to reach people on the autism spectrum who fell into the gap between extra care funding and employment. Small teams of students have learned about workplace conduct, how to use public transport, how to dress for business and even how to run their own micro business. The experience has been life-changing for many of the 126 young adults who have taken part. Forty two are now in paid employment including 3 ex-students who now work part-time on our Step Into Work plus programme.




Award for Most Creative Community Project

Winner: Footprints Life Camp, The Holmewood School London

Farming+Outdoor Education+Life-skills
'Taking steps to be the best you can be'

Footprints Life Camp was founded by Naj D’Silva in February 2016. It is a not-for-profit social enterprise which combines farming, outdoor education and life-skills to increase independence of young people on the autistic spectrum. We run specialised holiday camps and offer paid internships for young people on the spectrum providing meaningful work experience whilst reducing the risk of social exclusion. Our aim is to give young people the opportunity to be the best they can be. Social impact has been significant with 100% of young people and parents believing Footprints Life Camp increased self-esteem, independence and social skills in 2016.




Autism Accreditation Excellence Award

Winner: Woodcroft School

Woodcroft is a family owned independent special school that opened in 1963. Based in Loughton, Essex, Woodcroft provides day places for pupils from across north and east London and neighbouring counties. The school's flexible problem-solving approach extends to the offer of daily home-school transport for pupils who may find travel a barrier to accessing the school's unique provision. The transport service is operated by trained teachers assistants and drivers from Woodcroft's own team and is supported by office and maintenance staff, teachers, therapists and the senior management team.