Education, support and research for early years autism

Our Team

Puzzle Centre adopts a team approach to working with the children who attend the sessions in the nursery – the expertise of the Teacher and Therapists is used to ensure that each child receives an appropriate input of language and a tailor made programme of teaching and therapy during the entire session. All staff work with children on a one to one basis as well as within group sessions led by the Teacher or Therapists. Learning Assistants receive regular training and guidance on teaching methods and approaches.

Current Vacancies

We currently have the following vacancies. 



We are  seeking to recruit an experienced Fundraising Manager to join the Management Team. This is a crucial role – especially as we will be launching a capital fundraising campaign shortly to fund our proposed new headquarters.

The position is full time and carries an annual salary of up to £37,500 depending on the candidate being able to demonstrate a proven track record of successful fundraising. There is a pension scheme and 25 days annual leave.  WE WELCOME PART TIME APPLICATIONS FOR THIS ROLE AS WE WOULD CONSIDER A JOB SHARE.

If you think you have the expertise, please download the application pack below for full information about the role.

Fundraising Manager Application Pack 

Application form

We send our correspondence by email to save on postage costs.

To apply for this post:

 Send a letter of application to the Chief Operating Officer, Mandy Lawer, at mandylawer@puzzlecentre.org.uk, setting out why you want the position and how you meet EACH of the person specifications as detailed within the job description (there is a section that you can use for this on the application form)

  1. Fill in the application form.
  2. Attach your up to date CV.
  3. Give us the name, address and telephone numbers of two referees.

All posts at Puzzle Centre require enhanced DBS disclosure.

The deadline for receipt of applications is Friday 4th January 2019

All posts at Puzzle Centre require enhanced DBS disclosure.

Our Team

Founder and CEO

WebAlexAlex Stanyer B.Ed, MA (Infant Spec.Ed), Dip. Speech and Language Difficulties

Alex has over 30 years experience of working with children with a range of developmental and learning difficulties. After completing an initial degree specialising in teaching children with learning difficulties, including autism, she went on to take a Master’s degree, at George Washington University, Washington DC, in the education and early intervention of very young children (birth – 3 years) with a range of developmental difficulties.

She has taught children with autistic spectrum disorders, learning and language difficulties of all ages – in mainstream and special schools and nurseries as well as their own homes. Her main focus of work has been with pre-school children and she has developed a particular interest and expertise in teaching young children with autism. She set up Puzzle Preschool (now the Puzzle Centre) in September 2001. She co-wrote an article on small group intervention for young children with autism spectrum disorders which was published in the journal ‘Good Autism Practice’ in a special supplement on early intervention in 2002. She presented a paper on the later stages of the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) at their international congress in 2005. Since 2010 she has attended extensive training and coaching in the SCERTS educational model and has been instrumental in facilitating the Puzzle Centre team adopting and using this evidenced based educational model for working with children with autism and related difficulties with communication and interaction.

Alex was one of the original group of volunteers who trained as an Advisor for the National Autistic Society’s Education Advice Line and continues to present a range of training courses and at conferences for parents and practitioners about early years education and autism. She is a member of the International Society for Early Intervention and was on the Expert Reference Group for the Autism Education Trust (AET) for seven years. She is one of several consultants who developed a national set of standards, competencies and training materials for early years autism on behalf of the AET.

Chief Operating Officer (COO)

MandyMandy Simons BSc.

Mandy has worked at Puzzle since 2008. She is specifically responsible for all the support functions at the Centre  underpinning the services we provide.  This includes office management, charity administration, fundraising , finance and support for the Nursery. She works closely with the CEO, Head of Centre and others members of the management team. Mandy has a degree in Psychology and previously worked as a Human Resources Manager in the Financial Services Sector. She brings a wealth of experience to the smooth running of Puzzle.

Acting Head of Centre

EllaElla Millerchip B.Ed (Hons) PGCE

(National Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator) N.N.E.

Ella has over 20 years’ experience working in early years settings.  She worked in Mainstream settings as an Early Years teacher from 1995 until 2001 when leaving work to start as a family.

Ella joined Puzzle in 2009 and works 4 days a week, in her current role as Acting Head of Centre.  Previously she has split her time working both in our nursery and on our outreach team  She recently completed her Post Graduate Certificate of Education for Special Educational Needs.

Ella has taken part in the 3 day SCERTS training led by one of the creators of SCERTS, Emily Rubin. In conjunction with the Puzzle team Ella has also worked closely with Emily Rubin in implementing the SCERTS into the nursery environment.

Ella has completed the ‘Open University’ Course, attended the 2 day Picture Exchange Communication System training course and the NAS One day SPELL course.

Ella has a sound knowledge of the Early Years Foundation Stage Curriculum and how the curriculum can be used alongside the SCERTS framework.

Ella has undertaken  Sleep Practitioner Training with The Children’s Sleep Charity.


Head of Centre  (Currently on Maternity Leave)

Kathryn 1Kathryn Bowers B.Sc (Hons)

Kathryn joined Puzzle in January 2012 after working with children on the Autism Spectrum for the previous eight years across different settings. Kathryn obtained a first class degree in Psychology at Bath University in 2004, during which time, and the following two years she worked as an ABA (Applied Behaviour Analyst) tutor working with a number of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders in their homes and schools/nurseries.

Kathryn qualified as a teacher from the University of Sussex in 2007 and taught in a mainstream primary school for two years. As her passion was for teaching children on the Autism Spectrum, she moved to Buckinghamshire in 2009 to set up and run a new provision for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders within a mainstream primary school, also working as the school’s SENCo.

Kathryn has attended a wide range of workshops, courses and conferences related to special needs and autism, including extensive training in the SCERTS model, TEACCH, Picture Exchange Communication system and Makaton training course. She is committed to developing her knowledge and expertise of working with children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders and wishes to undertake a Masters degree in autism in the future.


Specialist Teacher (Maternity Cover)

    Claire Keenan  B.A Hons PGCE

Claire has been teaching in mainstream schools since 1992, covering a variety of subjects and Key stages. During her first post she worked in a school with a moderate learning difficulties department. It was here that she first developed a passion for working with children who have additional needs.

This was further developed when she had her own children and her son attended Puzzle. Since then, Claire’s passion for Early Intervention has lead her to developing both her personal and professional knowledge. She has attended various Puzzle courses, including visuals, sensory, SCERTS and the National Conference. She has also undertaken courses for teachers and parents of children on the autism spectrum, Early Birds and AET.

Claire is delighted to be joining the Puzzle Centre for Kathryn’s maternity leave as she has just completed a level 4 City & Guilds course about working with parents of children with complex needs. This led to her delivering a parent training programme called Breaking down Barriers, specifically for children with autism and ADHD, which stands her in good stead for working at Puzzle.



Specialist Speech and Language Therapist

BeckyBecky Ralphs, BSc (Hons), RCSLT, PGCert. Autism (children)

Becky qualified from Leeds Metropolitan University in 1992. Since then, she has worked with children in a variety of settings including community clinics, mainstream schools and a special school with a unit for children on the autistic spectrum.
Becky is a member of the National Autistic Society and the Clinical Excellence Network (CEN) for Autism, London.
Becky has completed the Hanen course (More Than Words) and is trained in the use of the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). In 2010, Becky completed a postgraduate certificate in Autism (children) at the University of Birmingham. She attended a 3 day course on implementing the SCERTS programme at the Autism Centre for Education and Research at Birmingham University in September 2010 and has received ongoing training in-house and with co-author of SCERTS, Emily Rubin.
More recently, Becky has attended a Train the trainer course and Attention Autism.

Becky started working at the Puzzle Centre in 2004 and is part of the Puzzle Assessment and Support Service (PASS) team.

Specialist Speech and Language Therapist

DianaDiana Hilton-Jones, LCST Dip. Speech and Language Pathology

Diana qualified in 1979 at Birmingham Polytechnic (now University of Central England). She specialised in working with children with specific speech and language disorders two years post-qualification.
She has worked in a variety of settings – clinics, special schools, mainstream schools and language units – with a range of paediatric client groups many of whom have had social communication difficulties. Diana has completed courses on the following approaches: Hanen, the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS); Talk Tools, Intensive Interaction and Attention Autism. She is a member of the Clinical Excellence Network (CEN), London .She attended a 3 day course on implementing the SCERTS programme at the Autism Centre for Education and Research at Birmingham University in September 2010 and has received on-going training in-house and with co-author of SCERTS, Emily Rubin . She started working at Puzzle in September 2005 as part of the Puzzle team, working in the Nursery with individual children and the whole group. Since January 2015 Diana has worked as part of the Puzzle Assessment and Support Service (PASS) Team.

Specialist Speech and Language Therapist

urszula photoUrszula Coghlan, M.A. (Hons), PGDip RCSLT

Urszula qualified in Speech & Language Therapy from City University in 1998, and has worked in a variety of settings, including community clinics, special schools and a rehabilitation unit for children with acquired brain injury. She has previously worked as a specialist Speech and Language Therapist for adults with learning disabilities, assessing and supporting clients with communication and dysphagias, and providing training to carers. She has completed the 2 day Picture Exchange Communication course, and the 2 day SCERTS training workshop. She has also been trained in Intensive Interaction, Hanen, and Signalong. Urszula originally trained as a Montessori Nursery teacher, and, prior to changing career to Speech & Language Therapy, worked for several years in a Montessori nursery and at a specialist Conductive Education Centre for children with cerebral palsy. She has been a member of the Puzzle Team since the Spring Term of 2014.

Paediatric Occupational Therapist

julieJulie Smith, BSc(Hons) OT, SROT

Julie joined Puzzle in 2014 and brings 13 years of experience of working with children. Prior to joining Puzzle Centre Julie worked at the PACE Centre with children with sensory motor disorders.  She works for Puzzle Centre 3 days a week to meet the sensory and motor needs of the children who attend the nursery.

Nursery Coordinator (Job-share)

The Nursery Coordinators work very closely with the Head of Centre, Specialist Teacher and the Speech and Language and Occupational Therapists to meet the needs of all the children who attend the nursery.

Nursery Coordinator (Job-share)

Sarah Boyce

Sarah began working at Puzzle in November 2014 as a Learning Assistant, however, her puzzle journey began in 2010 when her first child attended the nursery and continued in 2013 when her second child also attended. Being a past Puzzle parent, with both her children being on the spectrum, Sarah is able to relate to our families with great personal understanding.

Sarah has undergone a range of training courses during her time at Puzzle, including the 2 day Picture Exchange Communication System course, Attention Autism and SCERTS training.

Sally Doyle Bsc. (Hons)

Sally began working at Puzzle in 2007. She has a degree in Agricultural and Food Marketing from Newcastle University and worked as an Agricultural Analyst in Milton Keynes for 10 years before starting her own family. She began working with children as volunteer at her local primary school. Sally became Nursery Co-coordinator at Puzzle, alongside Stephanie Scrase, in May 2011.

Sally is qualified with a Diploma in pre-school practice and has attended a variety of training courses, including the 2 day Picture Exchange Communication System course, Autism and Play, SCERTS training and characteristics of effective learning.

Special Learning Assistants

 Annette Hooper, Mel Johnston, Sarah Boyce, Jenny Hammond, Louise O’Connor-Boyd, Fanny Stanley, Ajjima Goss, Jo Mannall, Fiona Hebert and Sara Cooper. 

All Learning Assistants attend twice-termly training sessions and receive direct guidance and supervision from the Teacher and Therapists. They attend a range of external courses on childcare, early education and autism – specific educational approaches.

Each Special Learning Assistant holds specific responsibility for a small number of children who they keep a detailed photographic record about their experiences at Puzzle in a ‘Learning Journal’ which is shared with parents.


hayley-2 Hayley Sheppard

Hayley joined Puzzle in April 2016, she is a part time administrative assistant to Mandy in the office.  Hayley has previously worked in the finance industry as a Business Development Manager, she comes with a range of skills to compliment our team.  Hayley is also an ex Puzzle parent & fully understands the world of special needs with care and compassion.

Finance Manager

Suzi Landon 



Community Fundraising Officer

  Clare Samways

Clare joined Puzzle Centre in April 2017 as Fundraising Officer, responsible for organising community fundraising events and engaging with our fundraisers and volunteers. Clare has more than 20 years’ experience in the corporate sector within sales, marketing and PR functions.  In addition to her work at Puzzle Centre, Clare voluntarily runs a Buckinghamshire-based autism support group: GRASPS Buckinghamshire, founded in 2013 and is currently studying part-time towards a BA (Hons) degree in Social Science with the Open University.  Clare has also volunteered for, and is a member of, the National Autistic Society. Clare is passionate about raising vital funds to continue the great work of Puzzle Centre, so please do get in touch with your fundraising ideas and suggestions, as she would love to hear from you! claresamways@puzzlecentre.org.uk.