Learning Disability Awareness Week: Oliver McGowan’s mother, Paula, recognised in Queen’s Birthday Honours List for services campaigning for learning disability and autism

Paula McGowan OBE, mother of teenager Oliver McGowan, has been awarded an OBE for her services raising awareness and campaigning for people with a learning disability and/or autism.

Oliver McGowan

Advocating for all NHS and Social Care staff to receive Mandatory training in learning disability and/or autism awareness, Paula McGowan’s efforts have been celebrated and recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2021 (12 June).

Paula has spearheaded the creation and development of the Oliver McGowan Mandatory Training in Learning Disability and Autism, after her teenage son, Oliver, died at Southmead Hospital in Bristol in November 2016.

Admitted for epileptic seizures, Oliver, who was autistic, was administered with anti-psychotic medication despite not showing or having any mental health conditions. An independent learning disability mortality review unanimously agreed that Oliver’s death was avoidable and made 31 recommendations to the National Program. 


“For so many other people just like Oliver, powerful drugs are being used inappropriately and off label as chemical cosh or ‘shut-up’ drugs,” emphasises Paula.

“These communities of people are trying to communicate their needs, but the decision makers do not appear to have the skills in understanding what they are trying to say. 

“[Medical professionals] must understand that Perceived challenging behaviour is a form of communication. I would argue that it is often the clinician or environment that is challenging the autistic and/or learning disabled person. To change culture, hearts and minds clinicians must take time to self-reflect, and think about what they themselves can do differently. 


In Oliver’s memory, the Oliver McGowan Mandatory Training in Learning Disability and Autism has been established which will see training delivered to all NHS and Social Care staff including undergraduate student doctors and nurses. 

And, most vitally, every step of the way learning disabled and/or autistic people have co-designed and co-delivered Oliver’s training.

Paula says: “We can only ever learn about learning disability and autism from these very people who understand themselves far better than we ever can.” 

For her tireless campaigning and advocating for people in the learning disabled and/or autistic community, Paula is hoping the OBE will further act as a stimulant for change for people across the UK to ensure there are no more avoidable deaths.


“In actual fact I wouldn’t be receiving this honour if Oliver hadn’t died in the way that he did; I wouldn’t be receiving this Honour if it wasn’t for campaigning for learning disabled people and autistic people who are treated atrociously,” emphasises Paula.

“The award is in my name, but I accept it for Oliver first and for the learning disabled and autistic community. This award is for them and I accept it for them.”

“If I don’t share Oliver’s story and I don’t shout for change, then change will never happen,” Paula continues.

“It is not an option to stay quiet when you know it is wrong. It is the sheer fact that Oliver is now a statistic, he is one of thousands. It is not right to stay quiet. We have to be the voice for those who cannot speak for themselves.”


During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, it was revealed that blanket Do Not Attempt Resuscitation (DNARs) were placed on patients with a learning disability and/or autism without consultation.

It is evident through this injustice that more work still needs to be done to recognise the needs of the disabled community.

Paula adds: “The Oliver McGowan Mandatory Learning Disability and Autism Training will be a catalyst for, I hope, better understating of learning disability and/or autism and how people are affected.

“It is about educating people who don’t have these additional needs, in understanding that we are all equal, all the same, and to make reasonable adjustments – as the law asks us to do.”

At Enable Magazine, we congratulate Paula for receiving such important recognition and thank her for continuing to advocate and spearheading change for the 1.5 million people in the UK with a learning disability.

You can follow Oliver’s Campaign by visiting the website here.

Accessibility Tools

Discover more from Enable Magazine

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading