Mr Crumble clowns around to help autistic children

Gary Williams
Gary Williams

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As Gary Williams looks into his 18-month-old daughter Fearne’s eyes, his dreams for her are that she is happy and has the best opportunities in life.

But the 32-year-old also knows from experience that the lives of some children don’t turn out in quite the way their parents hope.

I have a passion for teaching and I can relate to the children’s challenging behaviour

Gary Williams

For the past 10 years Gary has worked with vulnerable children who experience emotional and serious learning difficulties and disabilities.

His career started as a support worker in children’s homes and he now teaches in a school for children with complex needs such as autism and ADHD.

But, before that, he was a children’s entertainer and DJ, known as Mr Crumble.

After a lightning bolt moment, Gary realised that Mr Crumble could help children like those he teaches.

He is now combining both careers to offer children’s parties for those with conditions such as autism.

Gary, from Paulsgrove, explains that, because of their very singular issues, nine times out of 10 children with complex needs are excluded from parties with clowns and magicians.

He says: ‘I have a passion for teaching and I can relate to the children’s challenging behaviour.

‘I teach predominantly children with ASD – autistic spectrum disorder.

‘I can relate to their rigid way of life.

‘We had a training course a few years ago and it was so inspiring.

‘And, because of that, my role since then has progressed.

‘It really helped me understand the children with autism more and how to meet their needs and daily requirements.

‘Their social awareness is very different from other people’s and I’ve managed to gain and develop an insight into the condition.’

Gary became a children’s entertainer when he was 18, following in the footsteps of his late father Paul.

Gary says: ‘My dad was Mr Biscuit the clown and I, naturally, became Mr Crumbs.

‘It was a great job and I really liked being a clown.

‘It was great fun, but it was at a time in my life when I was young and not really sure what I wanted to do with my career.

‘I enjoyed going on holiday and going out on the town, but it couldn’t go on forever and I got a grown-up job.

‘Then, all these years later, I realised that it was something I could do again and use the skills I’ve learned through working with children with complex needs.

‘I thought to myself, “hang on a minute, I teach autistic children, I’ve got all the skills and the requirements needed to do that”.

‘I realised there was no-one out there offering children’s entertainment to specifically meet the needs of children with learning disabilities within a party environment.’

He adds: ‘It is easy for children who are autistic to be left out and I think it’s unfair.

‘I can confidently say I’m unique in being able to provide this service.

‘Children with autism can be sensitive to loud noises and bright colours.

‘They can really upset them. This is a way of being inclusive.

‘I feel that a lot of children with autism and learning disabilities are excluded and sidelined.’

The parties see Gary dressing up in his Mr Crumble outfit.

And for those who have problems communicating, he uses makaton – a form of sign language.

Mr Crumble takes along sensory lighting and other sensory equipment and toys to stimulate the children without frightening them.

And there are hand puppets for them to play with.

He says: ‘It’s all the kinds of things they will enjoy and be stimulated by – without over-stimulating them.

‘That is really important.

‘My partner thinks it’s a really good idea.

‘She’s always supportive of me trying out new ideas.

‘Becoming a father has added an extra dimension to what I do.

‘Neither of us could bear to see Fearne sidelined and I think that has inspired me too.’

Gary’s partner, Rachel Pantry, also 32, helps out at the parties and says there is never a dull moment living with Mr Crumble.

She is proud of what he is trying to do and says: ‘Gary is a really dedicated teacher and is one of the few people I know who actually enjoys his job.

‘He loves working with children with autism and learning disabilities.

‘Mr Crumble was an idea born from Gary realising that all children should be able to enjoy an inclusive birthday party that can be tailored to their individual needs.’

She adds: ‘Gary is a brilliant dad and partner. The thing I love most about him is that he makes me laugh.

‘He works hard and is dedicated to making the parties a success, whilst at the same time trying to make a difference to the little people who need that extra bit of help.’

Gary’s Mr Crumble is available to book through RFG Parties.

To find out more go to the RFG Parties Facebook page or call 07961 702237.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a condition that affects social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour.

It includes Asperger syndrome and childhood autism.

The main features of ASD typically start to develop in childhood, although the impact of these may not be apparent until there is a significant change in the person’s life, such as a change of school.

According to the NHS, In the UK, it’s estimated that about one in every 100 people has ASD.

There is no cure for ASD, but a wide range of treatments – including education and behaviour support – can help people with the condition.

ASD can cause a wide range of symptoms, which are often grouped into two main categories.

Problems with social interaction and communication – including problems understanding and being aware of other people’s emotions and feelings; it can also include delayed language development and an inability to start conversations or take part in them properly.

Restricted and repetitive patterns of thought, interests and physical behaviours – including making repetitive physical movements, such as hand tapping or twisting, and becoming upset if these set routines are disrupted.

People with ASD are often also affected by other mental health conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety or depression and about half also have varying levels of learning difficulties. Go to autism.org.uk.