Jo trained as a mental health nurse in 1997. During her training she also worked in a group home for adults with learning disabilities, and it was there that Jo’s interest in autism started.
Jo is a very creative person and after completing her training in Cardiff decided she wanted to work with children, where she could also utilise her creative talents. She decided she wanted to learn from the best, so applied for a position at the children’s unit in the Bethlem Royal Hospital. Within 6 months, Jo became a senior staff nurse and supported many families of autistic children with complex emotional and behavioural needs. Fuelled with a desire to learn more, Jo undertook a secondment with the Autism Team at the Maudsley Hospital. Whilst in London, Jo also worked with children and adolescents who were not autistic but experienced a range of other difficulties, including ADHD, brain injury, depression, anxiety, eating disorders and psychosis.
With her understanding of autism and skills and experience supporting children with emotional and behavioural difficulties, Jo soon found she had a useful skill set for working with autistic children and young people.
Next, Jo took up the role of autism outreach specialist within a community CAMHS service in London, keeping her generic CAMHS skills up to date by working one day a week in the local secondary CAMHS team.
In this role, Jo became part of the diagnostic team and alongside supporting families started to share her skills by providing training and consultation to other services.
After having her daughter, Jo returned home to Wales. She began working as a Nurse Therapist within the Cardiff Specialist CAMHS team. Autism remained her passion and she continued to support autistic children and their families. Jo is trained in ADOS, ADI-R and 3Di assessments, and continued to assess children for autism whilst in this role. In time, Jo’s knowledge of autism became well known in the service, and she was often called upon for advice in the area.
Jo eventually became the Senior Nurse Manager for the community specialist CAMH service across four health board areas. Although developing and managing staff was Jo’s main role, she continued to work clinically and remained a member of the local social communication assessment team.
In 2008, after the publication of Wales’ first autism strategy, Jo left CAMHS to take the position of regional autism development officer for South Wales. Within 2 1/2 years Jo became the National Autism Lead for Wales.
Her first achievement in this role was to create and author the ASDinfoWales website, the National autism information resource for Wales. From starting as a single information page, the website grew to be an internationally recognised autism information source, with resources being translated into 5 different languages.
In creating content for the website, Jo began to develop innovative information guides and e-training programmes. Her first guide Autism: A Guide for Parents and Carer received an NHS Wales award.
Another early creation was a short online ASD Awareness training, promoted widely and used to help people to think about autism. Jo worked with a group of autistic adults to produce “Autism: A Guide for Adults Following Diagnosis” and later authored “Autism: A Guide for Carers of Adults Following Diagnosis”.
As Jo became aware of organisations using the online autism awareness training, she started to expand the content to fit different services and in time developed autism awareness e-training for health and social care practitioners, leisure providers and housing providers.
Always brimming with ideas, in the next few years Jo created the ASD Planner app.,a wide range of advice sheets for parents, an online goal setting tool and an autism training programme for mental health professionals.
She was then asked to help with the difficulties autistic people experience in accessing employment opportunities. Jo developed an autism friendly CV builder, job seeking tool and skills dictionary. To help those working in employment support understand autistic differences she created the ‘Working with Autism” programme, including a training film, advice sheets and certification scheme.
When Jo was asked to develop an awareness raising programme for schools, her innovative thinking went into full swing. She developed a whole school awareness – raising programme for primary schools. Within the programme, Jo authored an Autism: A Guide for Mainstream Primary Schools, developed three training films and authored the children’s comic book ‘Autism Superheroes’. She later authored a second “Autism Superheroes’ in story book format.
Originally linked to the ‘Learning With Autism’ project, Jo created an online interactive personal profile builder for autistic children. She later replicated and adapted this to produce tools for teenagers and adults.
As the programme was so successful, Jo authored a second programme for early years settings. For this she authored Autism: A Guide for Early Years Settings, created a training film and developed the animated film “Teifi and Friends”.
Not wanting to stop there, Jo then developed a third programme aimed at secondary schools. This programme involved her authoring “Autism: A Guide for Secondary Schools”, creating 2 teacher training films and “Sgilti”, an awareness raising film aimed at secondary school pupils.
Parents told Jo that they were finding it difficult to get their children referred for an autism assessment because frontline professionals were not recognising the varied signs of autism. Wanting to address this, Jo began to work on resources to improve professionals recognition of the signs of autism. She worked with the Wales Autism Research Centre to initially develop a set of posters outlining the signs of autism, and later led the development of ‘The Birthday Party” film. Jo later worked with WARC and colleagues across Europe to translate the film into 4 different European languages.
Autistic adults told Jo that they were finding it difficult to access community shops, hairdressers and recreation provision. After liaison with both users and business owners, Jo developed the ‘Can You See Me?” Scheme, including a range of infographics aimed at business owners and the poignant “Can You See Me?” Awareness film.
Jo’s last awareness raising project before leaving the role was a training film for emergency services personnel.
Over 70,000 people have accessed training developed by Jo.
A full list of Jo’s resources is published in Appendix 1 of the Refreshed Autism Strategic Action Plan for Wales.
As National Autism Lead for Wales, Jo also had a policy / strategic role. As autism advisor to the Welsh Government, Jo played a large part in the development of the Refreshed Autism Strategic Action Plan for Wales and was an active member of numerous Welsh Government Advisory Groups. Jo has shared her work at many National and International conferences and has spoken at European Parliament. Jo authored numerous key strategic documents for Wales, including the report of a key Wales wide consultation and the Autism Training Framework for Wales.
Jo’s success at her role meant her remit expanded over the years she was in post, and it was because of Jo’s dedication that the National Autism Development Team came into being. Jo led and managed a team of six staff and worked with many other professionals working in autism across Wales and the UK.
In 2015 The Welsh Government asked Jo to find a solution to the problem of autistic people falling between gaps in services, and therefore finding it difficult to access support. Jo analysed all the available data and proposed a model for a National Integrated Autism Service for Wales. In 2016 the proposal was agreed and received £13 million of Welsh Government funding. Jo worked relentlessly on the early set up of the service, and created the original service models, training plans and monitoring templates.
In 2018, Jo decided to create her own service, Auspicious. Moving away from awareness raising, Jo now provides in-depth, practical autism training and consultancy to parents and professionals who want to ensure the best outcomes for autistic children and young people.