I was just 11 when my younger brother Simon was diagnosed with autism and severe learning difficulties, and it changed my life for ever. Watching him struggle, and the impact it had on our family unit, drove me to become a special needs teacher. Later, when own my daughter was diagnosed with semantic pragmatic speech disorder and put on the autistic spectrum and my niece was found to have cerebral palsy, I became even more of an expert.
But it was after experiencing a personal health scare and the death of a close friend - and being inspired by my daughter, now 17 - that I set up Connect 2 Colour workshops for autistic children. Piloted for the past year in schools, the programme helps autistic children to improve their fine motor and social skills. In the initial public workshops, observers were unable to distinguish between artwork produced by special educational needs (SEN) and non-SEN children.
Anyone can make a gallery-worthy piece of art. There are 91 acrylic paint colours to choose from and a vast collection of resources not usually available in schools, such as small rocks, sequins and beads, with which to create the artwork.
Children squirt paint on the canvas and manipulate it with sticks. They can attach other features in any way they wish. The result is abstract but deeply personal. And they treasure it.
I was recently asked by a headteacher to work with a pupil who had become withdrawn and non-communicative after suffering the loss of a parent. The boy was locked in grief and no longer able to relate to those around him. But after using the technique in a therapeutic way, we made a breakthrough and I was able to guide him through the bereavement process.
I like to adopt a personal and inclusive approach with each pupil, to enrich the national curriculum. Learning is enhanced in PSHE and art and design in both mainstream and special needs schools.
Giving back to the community is very important to me. With this in mind, the Connect 2 Colour Community Fund charity was launched in June to enable low-income families and local charities in south Buckinghamshire to access the benefits offered through Connect 2 Colour. There are now plans to take the business nationwide.
Sally Webb is a teacher who has specialised in special needs, early years education and working with children with autism. She has also established special needs departments in schools. For more information, visit connect2colour.com.
TIPS FOR TEACHERS
Purple is believed to boost a child's imagination, so try painting walls purple or using it as an accent colour.
Listening to music while making art can improve concentration by focusing the mind (and ears) on sound. It is thought to encourage movement and boost creativity.
Offer guidance (but not too much) because sometimes children can find it hard to know where to start.
Help pupils to understand autism with a resource pack from cathy1966. bit.lyautismribbon
Give pupils with SEN a colourful way to learn literacy and numeracy with 1castleschool's activities. bit.lycolourSEN.