2 Jul 2011

Newspaper Article

I'm copying the recent article here as I don't expect it will stay on the newspaper's website for long. Sharon Fennell and her son Ryan on a flight to Orlando last year Published on Thursday 30 June 2011 09:12 

A local mum and member of the National Autistic Society Northern Ireland wants to help other parents/carers of autistic children get the most out of the school holidays and increase people’s understanding of autism. HELEN MCGURK finds out more

SCHOOL summer holidays can present a real challenge for parents of children with autism in Northern Ireland. People with autism often encounter significant barriers in communication, social situations and making sense of the world around them.

Co Down mum Sharon Fennell whose 11-year-old son Ryan has autism explained: “The schools here close for two months in the summer. While we can use this time to meet new people, and enjoy new experiences, many children with autism rely heavily on a routine and the change can be disorientating. Some children and young people find coping without their normal routine frightening and upsetting and for many, the sensory overload can sometimes be tough for a child with autism.

“Parents of a child with autism want them to have a fantastic summer but when days don’t go so well you can feel isolated and even a bit of a failure. I’d like parents of a child with autism to know that there are at least 35,000 mums and dads in Northern Ireland who have similar experiences and great advice to share. Many of them are members of the local Northern Ireland branches of the NAS.”

Sharon has a request for people who may not be aware of the condition.
“Sometimes when you’re out and about in the holidays and your child is confronted with the unexpected or when they are overloaded with sensory information, they can panic and react in quite a dramatic way. It can be difficult when it happens in a public place. Autism isn’t readily visible, so to an outside observer it can look like your child is just being naughty when they are actually struggling hard to understand what’s going on around them.

“Some people stop and stare and even make thoughtless comments while you are busy and doing your best to support and calm your child. Their disapproval only adds to what can be an already difficult situation. When we’re sharing public spaces it would be lovely for people to understand that people of all kinds have a right to exist and be out and about.’’

Sharon added: “If more people understood and knew about autism, they would recognise what is really going on when my child is struggling, they would see that he is not merely “bold” and appreciate that he and I are doing our absolute best in tricky circumstances. That would so much more helpful than judging me or my son. It would be lovely if people could show a little more kindness, smile, and maybe even ask, “is there anything I can do to help?” That would be truly heroic!”

Sharon has some simple advice that can help families get the most out of the summer break.
“My top tip is to create some type of structure for the holidays.

“It helps my son to have an idea of what to expect each day. We write all our big events like holidays, birthdays, summer scheme days and when school starts back on the family calendar and he likes to look ahead and get an overall picture of what will be happening. His father lives in a different house and it helps him to know in advance when we will be staying there so all this information is marked on the calendar so he can access it.

“Each evening, we talk about what will happen the next day. When he was younger and had less verbal ability, I would draw pictures describing the day ahead in comic strip form. I’d sometimes also use picture cards and photos attached to a board with velcro or blue tac. As he got older I was able to write a list of the day’s tasks and events. It still helps him to have this list to focus on.’’

Sharon said when going places it pays to prepare and plan ahead as much as possible.
‘‘It helps to make sure I will be able to get my son food he enjoys or to bring some with me. I like to know possible problematic areas; when he was younger it was difficult to go anywhere that sold pic’n’mix sweets and he thought those plastic jars and scoops were an open invitation to small sticky hands and keeping him away was difficult.

“Some places allow carers to enter free when accompanying a disabled person; it’s always worth asking what discounts are available. When we go somewhere busy like a theme park, I tend to dress Ryan in a distinctive top that I would recognise from afar. I made a few t-shirts with slogans that inform people of his autism in a positive and funny way, or he may wear a lanyard around his neck with his NAS membership card on one side and my phone number and a slogan like “awesome autistic dude!” on the other. These help people to recognise that this child has a disability and I find the vast majority of people are more considerate and sensitive when they are aware.’’

Shirelle Stewart, co-director of National Autistic Society Northern Ireland said: “Children with autism want to have friends, go on outings and have fun in the summer holidays, just like any other child. Acceptance and understanding from the public can make holiday times less stressful for children with autism and their families and help them get the most out of their summer break.”

The National Autistic Society Northern Ireland provides a wide range of advice, information, support and specialist services to people with autism and their families.

For further information contact: 028 9068 7066 or email northern.ireland@nas.org.uk 

31 Mar 2011

Hey Johnny Ball, how about an apology?

Hi Johnny, old friend. You've been leading those poor gullible journalists a merry dance, haven't you, you old rogue?! Perhaps you never expected them to be so lazy that they wouldn't check what you claimed and learn for themselves that it was much ado about nothing? But what can we say, they're probably humanities graduates, can't be doing with all that old evidence nonsense eh! How did you come to find my blog post anyway? A Google search of your name didn't link here in the 1st 4 pages and I gave up after that, you must have gone deep to get to that post! I admire your stamina. But somehow, you came upon my (as it was) retired blog. It would be obvious to anyone that it's hardy influential; presidents and popes don't hang on my every word. Well you dug deeper than any journalist and found it. But if your quotes to journalists or the content of your own blog on what it contained are anything to go by, you didn't read the post. If this was an English comprehension test, you'd have failed. See, on the post, a commenter wrote that you are "not a man who should go anywhere near children with [your] ideas. [You are] not a man of reason and evidence but a ranting old lunatic." Now I don't fully agree with that, but a I tolerate a certain amount of dissenting opinion on my blog. The person who wrote it is entitled to think that if s/he wishes and it wasn't so extreme an opinion that I was unwilling to host it on my space. That person thinks your ideas on climate are so unscientific and extreme that you should not be given a platform to express them to children. I dislike the disablism of the "lunatic" slur. It's inaccurate and unfortunate but that's anonymous commenters for you. No doubt it bugged you to be described as such. Perhaps you were offended at my characterisation of you as a "silly old duffer" and "cranky in [your] old age"? You've been in the public eye for decades, I'm sure you know celebrities and those in the public eye are subject to criticism. It's not all fawning admiration all the time. But unlike me, you have the ear of the mass media and you milked it. On Feb9 2011 you wrote on your blog:
on a Northern Ireland Blog, The Family Voyage, which prides itself on winning some Blog Award, flagged JohnnyBall and featured the statement, “Johnny Ball should not be allowed near children.” Being near to children has been my career for over 50 years. As yet I cannot contact them, as their site is only open to known members?? (Their flagged Johnny Ball link has now miraculously disappeared)

Their beef is that I dared suggest in 2009 on NI Radio that Sammy Wilson as Energy Minister was right when he refused to air “Carbon Trust” TV commercials, one of which showed a very young child being told a story of a drowning world through climate change. Following complaints to the Advertising Authorities, these ads were found “guilty of exaggeration and alarmism over climate change” and were ordered to be dropped. So that would indicate that I was totally justified in condemning them?

Anyone who knows me and my career, must know that I have never done anything that in any way would harm a single child.

I defy anyone to find anything that I have done in my career that, were it publicly known, would harm my reputation.

You lied about the content on my blog and you lied saying the link had disappeared. You went on to lie to the newspapers; the TES, the Daily Mail, the Guardian, the Daily Express, the Daily Telegraph- all quoted you making similar slurs about the blogger who supposedly implied that you're a paedophile. You mislead these poor precious journalists into thinking it was part of a blogger campaign against you, carried out by some climate change lobby. You lied also when you implied that my post was removed after a police investigation. I was never contacted by the police and the post was never removed. So Johnny, are you going to go public again and make this right? Or stick to the lies? (I have emailed a copy of this post to Johnny Ball Productions. )

30 Mar 2011


I was driving with just Duncan in the car with me. He was quiet, taking time to dream, ponder, plan or whatever. I don't know- it's none of my business. Then he said a single word, "autism."

I said nothing, just waited. He said it again. I said, "yes, autism...What is autism?"

His response; "charming and delightful."

I've often mentioned in passing when talking with him, that he is autistic, is a boy with autism. It's another facet of him like his curly hair, blue eyes and love of animated films. I've also told him over and over how wonderful he is, how he's perfect to me, funny, sweet, and yes delightful. I can't remember ever calling him charming but he just worked that out for himself.

I love how he is thinking about these parts of his identity- where he lives, who his family and friends are, where he belongs, and now also- he's figuring out that there's autism in there too. And he's embracing it. I'm proud of him.

24 Mar 2011

Celebrate the New School

So how about a charming anecdote? Today, Duncan's school held a sod-cutting ceremony to mark the start of the new school building project. This is a really big deal- the building was approved 9 whole years ago but finalising funding was held up time and again. The current school buildings are totally inadequate- most classes are in flimsy, temporary buildings and the whole site is on a steep hill and since many of the pupils are wheelchair users, that's just not good enough. So everyone in the school is really pleased that finally, the school the students need and deserve is to be built. Duncan and I were invited to join the staff, other parents and pupils and some invited special guests for the event. Duncan ate a few sweets and was happy to see some of his friends and teachers, but then got a bit overwhelmed by the crowds in his hall and was bored waiting. He entertained himself for a while looking at photo displayed- even pointing out a girl whom he says is his girlfriend and will be his wife. I wonder what her opinion on all this is?! He then entertained himself taking photos using my phone- stick a bit of technology in that boy's hands and he's happy. He showed me a picture he'd painted depicting his version of what the new school should contain. He reckons there should be an oboe room (he's big into oboes atm), a "sweety" room, a pool (hot and with bubbles) a studio (where he could make animated films) and a cinema (in which to screen them).

Eventually, I took him out and we waited in the car. The people all moved on to the building site. Not knowing what parking would be like and since it was a lovely day, Duncan and I walked- rather he ran "Gru style" (Despicable Me) and I just about managed to keep up. In the site, pupils and teachers gathered for photos with the mayor and other dignitaries. Not Duncan- how could he when there was a huge and fascinating green digger to look at. He ran about the field for a bit and I dashed after him. Then he was given a blue balloon which after a while he let go of accidentally- and was momentarily crushed when it rose into the clear sky. He looked at me, seriously scared and asked: "the world will not end?" I assured him the world would not end, and he decided that the balloon would either turn into a fairy or go to the fairies. When I heard there was to be a mass release of the remaining balloons I thought it was best to just go home.
So it was nice but knackering- as time out and about with Duncan so often is. What I enjoyed most was the obvious affection with which he was greeted by so many staff and other pupils and how he clearly adores them in return. There's a lot of heart in that place.

Guardian Journalist Explains

After posting yesterday on the Johnny Ball fiasco, I had a conversation on Twitter yesterday with Leo Hickman who wrote the 2 Guardian articles regarding the imaginary hounding of Johnny Ball. His first article was Let's join Johnny Ball in condemning extremists in the climate debate.

Shortly afterwards, due solely to the more clued up people who responded in the comments and who took the couple of minutes needed to check the claim wrt the wicked paedophile-labelling blogger, Hickman wrote an update to his post: Johnny Ball denies 'climate zealots are ruining my career' claims.

Here's how it went.
  1. @sharonf Hello Sharon. Just seen your new blog about all this. Looks like you've seen my updated blog too.


    Leo Hickman

  2. @leohickman your updated blog still gives space to Ball to say I made "derogatory statements..totally out of order..blogs disappeared" untru


    Sharon Fennell

  3. @sharonf But it provides links thru to u 4 readers 2 c what was really said on yr blog. Ball is 1 who doesn't come out of this well, not u


    Leo Hickman

  4. @leohickman I'd hv wanted MSM journos to read blog in 1st place-not after commentors told them. appreciate link in 2nd article- despite ball


    Sharon Fennell

    @leohickman u say don't want to be "drawn in" to blogs being deleted or not. think journos shld have contacted me before publtn- right reply


    Sharon Fennell

  5. @sharonf I say in my blog I had no reason to doubt him - I stand by that. Ideal world, we wld check evrything, but readers did detctive work


    Leo Hickman

  6. @leohickman ideal world! wld hv taken 2 mins to check his assertion, before ur original piece- it's on his blog. he wasn't vilified by me.


    Sharon Fennell

  7. @sharonf ...and all the others who joyfully ran with this story why they haven't corrected their stories at all


    Leo Hickman

  8. @leohickman oh I will! disgraceful how this took off from nothing. Maybe should be flattered I was accorded so much influence over celeb ;)


    Sharon Fennell

  9. @sharonf As I think I said in comments beneath my blog, this ended up being more a media studies lesson than anything else. A lesson 4 all


    Leo Hickman

  10. @leohickman exactly. The substance of such wild claims must be checked. Especially when it is said to come from a blog.


    Sharon Fennell

  11. @leohickman the BBC just *love* their "balance" saw it all the time in autism/vaccine discussions. Ball speaks for


    Sharon Fennell

    @leohickman oops! They love having famous "sciencey" spokesperson to call on. Ball hs created new role for himself. martyr status helps role


    Sharon Fennell

So Hickman admits that he just ran with it as he had "no reason to doubt" Ball, and that checking further- or "detective work"- can be left to his readers. Now really, how long would it take to read the blog Ball talked about, search it to find the post in question, and check that he hadn't been making it up as he went along.

In Hickman's 2nd Guardian article he wrote:
Personally, I don't really want to get drawn into the nitty-gritty of how Google works, the intentions of those who build porn sites, or whether certain blogs have been deleted or not. I asked Ball to respond on these points and he did so.
Why not? Hickman gave credence and lots of publicity to Ball's claims regarding these very issues. He is a respected Guardian journalist and author on environmental issues, and not some seedy hack bent on muck raking. His contribution to the propagation of these claims is substantial.

I do appreciate that he made a link available in his update article, and explained the nature of this personal blog- it's hardly capable of changing a celebrity's career. However I didn't notice an apology anywhere there for the initial oversight; just saying he took other's words in good faith and checking up is too taxing, sounds all wrong to me. The whole point of his 1st article was to condemn the claimed mistreatment of Ball. And Ball still was given a platform to repeat his lies about my blog, repeating his claim that the line "Johnny Ball should not be allowed near children" comes up on Google links and that the post was removed- all untrue.

22 Mar 2011

Obscure Blogger Vilifies Johnny Ball? No, Actually

I thought I might get back into blogging some time but didn't know it would happen like this.
I wrote this small scale blog for a few years before taking a long break. In that time I deleted most of my sidebar, especially links to other blogs I am no longer regularly reading, leaving static links like a 3 year old blog awards badge and the link to sense about science's libel campaign. A working email address was still displayed on my Blogger profile, but I rarely checked it. All new comments go to my main email so I see those right away. Oh and I haven't checked my stats for at least a year- why bother?!

Recently I checked that little used email address and had a message alerting me to a Science Blogs post on Deltoid, a blog by Tim Lambert. This was the first notice I had that Johnny Ball was going around telling credulous journalists that a nasty blogger was mounting a campaign against him. In an interview with the TES he complains that:

his bookings have dropped by 90 per cent over the past year and the 72-year-old has blamed this on harassment by extreme environmentalists who object to his dismissal of climate change as “alarmist nonsense”.

He continued to complain about some blogger saying he “should not be allowed near children”. He then claimed:

This was clearly a criminal act aimed directly to damage me and my career business,” he said. “Since notifying the police of these acts aimed at damaging my name and reputation, the offensive web links have quite amazingly disappeared.

So who is this mysterious blogger who removed one of the "offensive" links after he complained to the police- it's all revealed on his own (horrible looking, badly formatted) blog. He writes [scroll down to the terrifying sounding headline: "VERY IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT. Wednesday 9/2/2011"] My thoughts are in red:

It is with horror and disgust that I find that I am the victim of some kind of Internet Smear Campaign.Oh really? Tell us more.

I have had to complain to the police and my problem is now logged as a harrassment (sic) case and is being investigated. Wow, sounds serious. Someone better look out or the fuzz'll be onto their bad self.

This morning, an early phone call asked if the voice mail saying I could not attend a Teacher Training event on 1st March was true. Luckily the recipient knew that I make all my own telephone calls. We have the recording which we will hand to the police. The event was posted on my News and Apperances (sic) listing. How awful, Johnny is loosing bookings over all this! Just who could have so much power in the life of the famous man?

Anyone Googling “JOHNNYBALL” (without the gap) may have found a sponsored direct link to “Johnny Ball/Paul Raymond” which when clicked on immediately opens up on a collection of explicit nude pictures of females. I had obviously opened this link and contacted the Paul Raymond organisation. Before they could act, the link had been removed, - 9/2/11 - so it is clear that I am being monitored. Someone please explain the internet to Johnny- meta tags, other people in the world sharing his name- there are many non-conspiracy reasons why this could have happened.

Also on a Northern Ireland Blog, The Family Voyage, you tell 'em Johnny...wait a minute, that's me! WTF? which prides itself on winning some Blog Award (yay! big up my blog award...oh, he's being snarky, I'm hurt now) flagged JohnnyBall and featured the statement, “Johnny Ball should not be allowed near children.” This is a lie- neither the blog post nor the comments contained that statement. Being near to children has been my career for over 50 years. As yet I cannot contact them, as their site is only open to known members?? (Their flagged Johnny Ball link has now miraculously disappeared) It's easy to contact me. Also, the post has not and never had disappeared- no idea why he claims this.

Their beef is that I dared suggest in 2009 on NI Radio that Sammy Wilson as Energy Minister was right when he refused to air “Carbon Trust” TV commercials, one of which showed a very young child being told a story of a drowning world through climate change. Following complaints to the Advertising Authorities, these ads were found “guilty of exaggeration and alarmism over climate change” and were ordered to be dropped. So that would indicate that I was totally justified in condemning them?

Anyone who knows me and my career, must know that I have never done anything that in any way would harm a single child. Who has claimed that he would?

I defy anyone to find anything that I have done in my career that, were it publicly known, would harm my reputation.

[Here follows some of his funny wee notions on climate science.]

Everyone who knows me, will know just how sad I am that I have had to write this blog.

Hopefully it will be the last. I so enjoy working to kids and making them laugh, before I add material that should hopefully give them confidence in their own abailities (sic) and their future as adults. Whatever is wrong with our society I see nothing wrong with the vast majority of the kids I aim to inspire.

Johnny Ball - Wednesday 9/2/2011 - updated 14/2/11

Note the lack of links in this piece- perhaps he doesn't know how to hyperlink?

So far, so daft. But this sparked off a furor among mainstream journalists and climate change "skeptics" all outraged at the evil "climate change zealot" who defamed their Johnny.

The Telegraph: Johnny Ball 'abused by environmentalists' over climate change denial by Graeme Paton

In an interview, he told how websites had been set up in his name featuring pornographic images and a blogger wrote that he should “not be allowed near children”.
The Daily Mail: Climate zealots made my life hell for being a sceptic says Johnny Ball, who was victim of porn and blog smears by Kate Loveys

Yesterday he revealed he has become the victim of a vicious hate campaign by environmentalist ‘zealots’.Mr Ball – father of Radio Two DJ Zoe Ball – popularised maths and science for millions of youngsters in the 1970s and 1980s with his eccentric TV shows. More recently he has carved out a career giving talks in schools and at science festivals and teachers’ conferences.

This will make the right-on brigade hot and bothered But he says zealots are trying to sabotage his career because he has described climate change as ‘alarmist nonsense’.
He claims the internet has been used to try to discredit his opinions. Bloggers have run campaigns stating Mr Ball ‘should not be allowed near children’.
Notice that my one lowly blog has metamorphosised into a whole host of campaigning zealot bloggers out to get poor Johnny. Wow.

Via the Deltoid post, I hear of a bloke writing in something called the Herald Sun who got really hot and bothered about all this: “Pedophile!”, the warmists argued
"It’s that totalitarian mindset outing itself again. The savagery and intolerance are unmistakable giveaways."
Writing on the Guardian Environment Blog, Leo Hickman wrote: Let's join Johnny Ball in condemning extremists in the climate debate
Ball says he was forced to call the police last week after a website featuring a pornographic image was posted online bearing his name. In a separate incident, he says a blogger stated that "he should not be allowed near children". He says that both sites have since been taken down and South Thames police says it is investigating his complaints.
No links to the blog in question on any of these so readers can assess the claims for themselves. Nor does it look like any of these esteemed journalists spent the 2 minutes or so it would have taken them to find the post Ball referred to and realise he was spouting bollox! I am only grateful that my name was not mentioned on any of articles as the climate change deniers are a scary bunch and I wouldn't want to have to deal with their attacks.

You might think given all the references to the police taking action against the perpetrators of these dastardly crimes, they might have been in touch, but no. The PSNI have not bashed my door down in a quest for justice. My blog has sat there utterly unchanged, uncontested and mostly unread for ages.

If you want to read the post in question, it's this: Johnny Ball, what happened to you?

In the comments, one person wrote:
I just went on Johnny Ball's site to send him an email asking him not to damage himself in this way. I then read his blog and it's all come clear. He's a religious nut. Should of been clear before. That's why he tied scientists to eugenics. Something religious people do. Suggesting that science caused the holocaust. Heard it before, again and again from these people. Johnny is not a man who should go anywhere near children with his ideas. He is not a man of reason and evidence but a ranting old lunatic. Guess the reason he disappeared from our screens is a mystery no more. Sad.
Note the quote in red. It is very different from what Ball claims I wrote.

At least Leo Hickman posted an update when commentors on his initial article on the matter posted a bit more information; things that he should have investigated himself.

Johnny Ball denies 'climate zealots are ruining my career' claims
For example, one of Ball's central claims was that a blogger had stated that he "should not be allowed near children". The word "paedophile" was not used, but the implication was clear. But soon the original blog posting was isolated and it turned out that the full statement used – by a reader on a blog run by a woman with an autistic son – was that Ball, as a climate sceptic, "should [not] go anywhere near children with his ideas". A very different message. Speculation mounted in the comments beneath my article – and elsewhere – that Ball was wrongly maligning and blaming environmentalists with this pointedly edited sentence.
Well quite!

But in this article Hickman quotes a conversation he had with Ball, asking for clarification. Ball just isn't ready to let go of his rancour with me:
The other [link which was removed] appeared on a Northern Ireland blog that prided itself in winning a blog award. Sheesh Johnny, enough praise for my blog award already! It was years ago! Googled items usually have two lines of introductory text. This one said, 'Johnny Ball should not be allowed near children.' This appeared on the listing and was very alarming. More lies.

Their issue was in my support on BBC Radio Northern Ireland of Sammy Wilson as Energy Minister who had said he would not allow a Carbon Trust commercial which showed a child of around 5 being read a bedtime story in which the world was drowning. On that show, I lost my temper as two other NI MPs were banging on about who had the largest carbon footprint over the mileage they each did in a week.

After many complaints, the Advertising Standards Authority declared the ads alarmist, or whatever - the point is they did feel they might be damaging and worrying for children and they were withdrawn – so, whatever the beef was, my stance was in line with the authorities and so I was justified. But for whatever reason, for that blog to make such derogatory statements about me, was totally out of order. The two blogs disappeared a few days later. The most derogatory statement I made about him was to call him a silly old duffer- a comment I stand by. Also, once again- the post never has disappeared! Wow- boggles!

So there you go, my reintroduction to blogging- not with a charming anecdote about my beautiful son, but in order to defend myself against ridiculous and frankly defamatory statements about me which were (though thankfully without including my name) propagated by the mainstream media. These articles gave rise to over 1000 comments, many of which were directed against the evil blogger attacking dear sweet Johnny.
Frankly I'm amazed. And rather pissed off.