Q&A with Petra Ecclestone

Why did you decide to open a specialist therapy centre in London for Autistic children and has your motivation and goals for the centre changed since opening?

I spent time in LA where I discovered the amazing support they have for families and their children who have learning delays/difficulties. When I returned to London, I was surprised that there was so little support. Every child deserves the best possible start in life so I decided to work with Professor Simon Baron Cohen (A British clinical psychologist and professor of developmental psychopathology at the University of Cambridge). He taught me that children with developmental delay  or suspected autism, can make significant progress if supported with the right blend of therapies , particularly in the preschool years which can greatly improve outcomes for them and their families  (if seen between 2 and 5 years old, can undergo therapies to help them and give them and their families better future lives

I funded Petra’s Place, a centre to offer diagnosis and therapies. We offer a number of free and subsidised spaces each year which is funded by my Foundation otherwise families pay privately or are able to use funding they have been allocated from their Local Authority EHCP (Education and Healthcare Plan) or private health insurers.

Why have you decided to add a nursery element to the centre?

My vision is for the centre, (my foundation has funded the build and the running costs to date), is for it to be self-supporting to allow me to open more centres in future in other parts of the country. We had many parents saying how much their children love the centre so much when they come for therapy that they don’t want to leave!  So we decided to open a day nursery to offer parents the possibility of day care for children with special needs and whilst they are onsite, they can access the one-to-one therapy services or our cutting edge group programmes. We decided to make it an inclusive nursery as many siblings do not want to be separated, so opening a nursery allows families to keep them together.

Our therapies are focused around play, creativity and attachment, with elements of the EYFS curriculum which will complement and enhance the nursery programme and vice versa (similar to what a nursery teaches) so we felt we could blend both appropriately. Also, some children may have a milder developmental delay which is not severe but requires more time to overcome and I want Petra’s Place to be able to support these children too

Do you think there is enough awareness and education about Autism in the UK?  

Not enough. The NHS are amazing but stretched in all directions. I hope the Foundation’s Instagram is helping to raise awareness of the challenges that autistic children and their families face.

Have you noticed a difference between awareness of autism spectrum conditions in the UK compared to the US since you have been living there? 

Yes – they have far more support in the USA. Autism Speaks is an amazing organisation. I feel there is less stigma attached to autism in the USA – people are more open.

Are you planning to open any more centres and if so when? 

I would like to open centres nationwide over the next few years

Can you tell us what you like doing when you are not working and have downtime? 

Being with my kids – I learn from them every day. I love spending time with my sister and her daughter also.

Have you got any advice for parents out there that you have learned from having your own kids?

Patience is key. There are days which will seem hard, frustrating, but the joy your kids bring will always outweigh the stress! Spend your time with your kids – that’s what they want most.

Petra’s Place, an inclusive special needs nursery and therapy centre for children aged 2 to 5 years is open Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and is located at 262 Fulham Road, London, SW10 9EL. To enquire about individual and group therapy or a place at our nursery contact reception@petrasplace.co.uk. For further information go to our website www.petrasplace.co.uk