A true Meeting of Minds took place at Coldstream Primary School at the weekend when experts and families met to share their experience of working and living with autism.
Meeting of Minds is a small but ever-growing group of parents of children with various conditions that cause learning difficulties and together with Councillor John Greenwell they are helping raise public awareness of autism, The Meeting of Minds day at Coldstream was the first public event the group has organised, supported by local organisations, and its profile was raised considerably by a team from Edinburgh University’s Patrick Wild Centre, where research into autism and other associated conditions is currently underway.
One of the organisers Lauren Hamilton said: “This is the first event that we have put together and hopefully the start of many more to come. It certainly looks to be the start of a beautiful friendship between us and The Patrick Wild Centre.
“Meeting of Minds group hopes to be able to create a brighter and positive relationship with key professionals and parents to help children with additional/complex needs.
“We raised a very generous sum of money from local businesses to help with our event and we can look forward to our next one with no worries.”
As well as experts present on the day the community turned out in huge numbers to support the group and while the children played on the bouncy castles and the fire engine which turned up to keep them entertained, the adults were given a fascinating talk by Professor Eve Johnstone and Dr Andrew McKechanie from the Patrick Wild Centre who are working with children and families on a number of trials.
Professor Johnstone explained: “Parents want to know if there is science devoted to treating their children’s conditions.
“Our scientists have been working with rats with modified genetic conditions and if you put back the amino acid they are missing they get better. This was a massive surprise because it suggests the probability that if we can find a successful treatment it wouldn’t matter that the person had been ill for some time.
“It’s not for practical application yet and we need to work with clinical scientists too.”
Dr McKechanie talked about the new treatments they are testing, such as iPad and technology intervention to help with social understanding, plus eye tracking with younger children which gives the team good data about where the child is looking and what is attracting their attention.
“We studied a group - half with autism and learning difficulties and half with learning difficulties - and found that parts of the brain were less active in those with autism, particularly the part of the brain involved in social understanding, emotions, facial expressions etc.
“We have been humbled by our parents and our participants who have come to our studies and they are coming wanting to help others in the future.”
Susan Benson from Chirnside has three children, one of them with autism and the Meeting of Minds group has made a big difference to her life, having parents to speak to who understand the day to day difficulties she and her family face.
“After getting a proper diagnosis there should be a list of parents who are happy to be contacted to support the parents at a time when they are barely able to think straight,” said Susan.
Ann Hill from Kelso, whose 11 year son has a rare condition he shares with only 122 others in the UK and Ireland, has found Meeting of Minds has made an enormous difference to her life.
“There has been a lack of support out there,” said Ann. “We are here to say we are willing to support anybody and to take things forward.
“Let’s make life better for everybody.”
Councillor John Greenwell, Scottish Borders Council’s equalities champion has been at the forefront of Meeting of Minds and is proud of what they have achieved so far: “It’s not often that as an elected member at SBC that you can say you are making a difference in people’s lives but being involved with Meeting of Minds means that I can.
“The day was given a boost by the visit of the Patrick Wild Research centre from Edinburgh University who gave a presentation on their research and again this gave parents that bit of reassurance that they are not on a life time journey on their own, that there is a huge amount of work being done in the field of autism.”