In the early 1970s an autistic boy was so disruptive in his primary school that the Headteacher reluctantly had to exclude him. He was taught at home for a while then his Home Teacher asked if she could bring him into school if she guaranteed he would not disrupt classes. The Headteacher agreed. Later two other similar boys were integrated back into the school. Later they were joined by more children and a classroom in the school grounds was built. From these careful, modest but visionary beginnings the “Chinnor Unit” was established. This pioneering work, led by Sheila Coates, became a model for the 1978 Warnock report on integration of children with various difficulties into mainstream school. The County service which embraces autistic children now has nine bases around Oxfordshire. Other counties around the UK have copied this model with modifications to fit their local needs.
The Charity, Children in Touch, was established early on to support this work. The Nobel Prize winner Professor Niko Tinbergen gave a substantial part of his prize money to the Charity. The Local Authority too recognised the excellence of the service and in 1978 took over the majority of the funding. But the Charity was still needed to generate extra money to provide a flexible and innovative service which worked to meet each child’s needs. Autism specific educational approaches were used and various therapies, such as music or art therapy, psychotherapy, or use of the Walden method, were undertaken within the units, but all the time what was central was care and respect for, and enjoyment with, each child.
The spirit of innovation continued, and by the late 1990s the needs of families for more support, especially those newly diagnosed, became a focus, and the Autism Family Support service was established.