We were fortunate enough to meet Anna Kennedy OBE at the Tesco Mum of The Year Awards in March when she so deservedly won the Achieving Mum Of The Year Award. Anna is the proud mother of two boys, Patrick, 23 and Angelo, 20, both of whom are affected by autism. Frustrated at the lack of educational facilities that were available for her boys, she took the dramatic step of re-mortgaging her home to fund the transformation of a soon to be demolished school into Hillingdon Manor, a school purposely built to provide autistic children with the safe and structured education that they deserve. Since it opened in 1999, it has gone on to become the largest school of its kind in Europe. Anna has also gone on to set up another specialist school, a community college, and a respite home for carers.
April is National Autism Awareness Month, so we were thrilled when Anna found time in her hectic schedule to chat with Mumazin:
It’s great to meet you Anna, and thanks for your time which we know is super precious. You work so hard and have achieved so much, where do you get your inspiration from
My two boys, Patrick and Angelo. Everything I have done, I have done for them. My boys are now 23 and 20, so I have gone through all the different struggles along the way, from childhood, to adolescence and now adulthood. So meeting other parents, and seeing their struggle made me want to fight for their rights too. Although autism awareness has improved it is still not enough and I want to drive my message forward even more and really make a difference.
There must be times when it’s hard to keep motivated though. How do you keep going
Passion. I suffer with sinus problems and migraines, and only get around three hours sleep per night and I guess I’m a workaholic! There is so much more that I want to do, if I lost my drive then I would give up. I’m 53 and my friends say I’ll be working until I’m 73! I still get excited at new projects and I like getting things done ‘NOW’. My attitude is ‘lets just get on with it’ and I always go with my gut instinct.
But there must be times when it’s hard to juggle so much. How do you find enough hours in the day
It’s a way of being. When the kids were younger, I took them to school, and made sure I picked them up and I still pick up Angelo from college unless there is a really important meeting I have to attend. I make sure that we all sit down for tea together and I work from home. I’m a multitask. When I’m on the phone, I’m cooking, or cleaning, I’ve always worked like this, and I’ve set the house up accordingly. When Angelo wakes at 2 am I make calls overseas, I have over 63,000 twitter followers and 3 Facebook pages, and there’s always emails that have to be answered. It’s my catch-up time.
You are so passionate about all you do, but we can tell Autism’s Got Talent is very special to you, tell us a bit more about it
After its success last year, Autism’s got Talent will be held at the Mermaid Theatre in London on May 11th. We have been inundated with applications from throughout Britain and even from places such as Australia and Canada. It is not a competition, but a platform for children and adults to showcase their talents and make their mark through the performing arts, and show the world that Autism really does have talent.
Bullying is a serious problem for children with Autism. How did you get involved in the Give Us A Break Campaign
It started with the anti bullying alliance in 2010. We were inundated with messages from people with stories of bullying in mainstream schools, and cyberspace. So we contacted the NSPCC and Childline, but they had nothing on autism. However, we worked alongside them and to coincide with anti-bullying week, Childline launched a helpline and information specifically to support children diagnosed with Autism and their family and friends.
Young adults with Autism and Asperger’s are often seen as being ‘different’ and as a result are targets for bullies, and on the week it was launched it recorded more hits than ever before. The idea for the Give Us A Break campaign is to get mainstream schools to be more structured. Break times and lunch times are seen as being specific times when children are most vulnerable. We are trying to get simple things put into place like 6th formers becoming buddies and starting up lunch time clubs such as Warhammer club, drama club etc and other activities that can help to keep children safe.
We want people to start talking and raise awareness of the condition, and also share ideas that have worked for them. I want to get the message out to schools and colleges and into the community. Children grow into adults and they too are bullied in the workplace. It is a serious problem, that affects suffers of all ages. Children and Adults with Autism and Asperger’s want to make their mark on the world too, they want to have friends, and girlfriends and should be allowed to without feeling threatened by individuals who are ignorant to the conditions.
I want people to understand that they too have a lot to give to society and just need an equal opportunity in a safe environment. The campaign also seeks to inspire schools and colleges with success stories like that of James Hobley, a 11 year old autism sufferer who overcame bullying to become a hugely successful performer finishing in the final 7 of Britain’s Got Talent.
We can’t believe how much you have done already, what are you plans for the future
I want to work with the new campaign and to get it out into schools. We are bringing Autism’s got talent to Manchester and the Excel too. However, I’d love to open a performing arts school and hopefully open a foundation. Obviously I want the charity to grow too and get Autism awareness out there.
You already offer so much support for parents and carers but if there was one piece of advice you could give, what would it be
You are not alone, Anna Kennedy Online provides a support mechanism for all, but most importantly, whatever obstacles might be put in front of you, fight for your rights, just put your battle armour on and fight.
And finally, apart from your two gorgeous boys, what is your proudest achievement
Definitely, Autism’s got talent. It really has surpassed all my expectations, however, after last year, we have set the bar so high that I don’t really know how it could get any better.
Anna Kennedy is a straight talking, determined woman, who’s fight for her own children, and for the future of others is a true inspiration to everyone. Her tireless work to raise awareness of autism and the support of carers is relentless. And if what she’s achieved already is anything to go by, Simon Cowell had better watch out. By Sam Man https://www.mumazine.com/