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A former Sheffield Hallam University student has been awarded the Points of Light award by Prime Minster Theresa May for her voluntary work with autistic children.

Dr Sandra Beale-Ellis, who studied for a doctorate in education (specialising in autism) at Sheffield Hallam, received the prestigious award for her campaigning to encourage autistic children to get involved in sports and recreation activities.

Dr Ellis was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome during her studies at Sheffield Hallam and - alongside having taught autistic children for 14 years - used this diagnosis to inspire her to promote greater inclusion for autistic children. 

The focus of Dr Ellis's studies also followed many years of teaching karate and dance, specialising in students with medical, neurological, emotional and social differences - a passion shaped by her experiences of childhood cancer and arthritis.

In a personal letter to Dr Ellis, the Prime Minister said: "Through your campaigning you have encouraged thousands of children with autism to get involved in sports and recreation activities outside of the classroom.

"You have used your own experiences to promote greater inclusion for the next generation, and you should be proud of what you have achieved. The Points of Light award is a small thank you on behalf of the whole country, in recognition of your exceptional service."

Now based in Kent, Dr Ellis has her own website and blog, The Autistic Voice, and has written two books on autism. She uses her autistic voice to report on sensory experiences in cities across the world and provides advice on how to manage the more challenging aspects for an autistic individual.

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Dr Ellis said: "I am astonished and delighted to receive this award and for the Prime Minister to recognise my passion and commitment for helping other autistic individuals. This should raise yet more awareness so that autists do not feel isolated and misunderstood."

Dr Luke Beardon, senior lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University's Autism Centre, said: "The words associated with this award are ‘innovative, outstanding, and inspirational’. These three words sum up Sandra’s work and person admirably. 

"I count myself lucky in the extreme to know Sandra, and continue to be inspired by the example she sets supporting autistic learners. Her myriad qualities make her a deserved winner of the award and will add to her already impressive achievements."

For press information: Please contact Martin Webb in the Sheffield Hallam University press office on 0114 225 2621 or email