Doting dad diagnosed with autism at 21 is strengthening bond with his son largely thanks to Oldham's Family Hubs

Date published: 08 July 2024

Joshua Bardsley, who is 24, and his three-year-old son are thriving after taking part in a Play, Learn, Grow course.

Dedicated dad Joshua joined a free eight-week development course so that he and his son could progress together by getting involved in fun activities.

His son, also called Joshua, is one of the children being helped to get the best start in life from Oldham's Family Hubs offer. 

Joshua says the coaching course, through the Making It REAL (Raising Early Achievement in Literacy) programme, has helped both father and son to flourish.

“I was diagnosed with autism at 21 and I wanted to overcome my dislike of mess because I didn’t want to pass that on,” he said.

“Before coming here, I didn’t even wash the pots and I didn’t like using creams.”

The course, delivered by the charity Home-Start HOST as part of their work for the Family Hubs offer, is accessed through home visits and face to face groups delivered in pre-schools, nurseries, schools, Family Hubs and community buildings, supporting children's early literacy development.

The course, for parents and their children aged three to five, aims to help parents to support their children's early learning and development at home.

Joshua, who joined sessions held at Richmond Academy, said: “We’ve took some of the activities from here and brought them home.

"So, for example, now we do things like making play dough and spending hours round the table as a family doing little activities to make the bond a bit better.

“It gives you more to talk about and it helps with describing things.”

He continued: “We do reading and sometimes we’ll go out and do things while out in the park.

“But there’s only so many times you can go up and down a slide and round the swings and roundabouts, so this just makes more things to do at home.”

Parents are encouraged to talk about what has worked well and how the activities have benefited their child.

Each week there is a new focus including listening and understanding, talk and communication, early literacy and early maths.

The four strands of REAL - books, oral language and rhyme, environmental print such as street signs, logos, labels and early mark making such as lines, dots and patterns -  are part of all the sessions.

At the end parents and children receive an activity pack to carry on learning and having fun.

One of the Play, Learn, Grow practitioners said: “It has been wonderful to watch the children interacting with their families and we have learnt so much more about our children and their families by taking part in the project.

“We have found that the sessions have had a positive impact on our children’s attendance, confidence and communication and language skills.

“The children and the parents have made some lovely friendships and relationships between parents and staff are also stronger as a result.

“Parents are more aware of how to support their children at home.

"As they see you model the activities, I think it has built their confidence so they will try it at home.

“Children are often bringing things in to show me what they have done at home following the ideas given in the sessions.”

Cllr Shaid Mushtaq, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People at Oldham Council, said: “This is a great example of how we are supporting children from a young age to develop and providing them with the best start in life.

“We are proud that our Family Hubs offer is helping children in Oldham to learn and develop and families like Joshua’s to bond and thrive.”

Family Hubs offer various services such as health clinics, breastfeeding support, Baby Play and Stay and Play sessions and parenting support.

To find out about your nearest Family Hub, for children and young adults aged 0-19 and aged 25 with SEND, and how the offer can help you and your family, visit:

For more information and to join the Play, Learn and Grow course call 0161 344 0669 or email:

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