My mother, Margaret Golding, who has died aged 88, was one of the most experienced educators in the field of autism. She was head of a number of schools specialising in the needs of autistic children.
She was born in York to Margaret (nee Ewing), a civil servant, and her husband, Bill Gell, who worked as an overseer in a local railway carriage and wagon works. Maggi attended the Bar Convent High school in York and after teacher training at Durham University she moved to London to take up her first teaching post in 1952 at the Hague Street primary school in east London. It was in London that she met and married my father, the Polish artist Mieczyslaw Chojko. They divorced three years later.
Maggi started to teach children with special needs and took a post at the High Wick unit in Hertfordshire for psychotic and schizophrenic children. In 1957 she met her first autistic pupil, which sparked off an interest that led her to become principal of the first UK school for autistic children, Edith Edwards House in Banstead, Surrey.
Maggi then met and married Laurence Golding, who was an area manager for the Automobile Association in Kitwe, Zambia. This led her to move to Zambia and subsequently to Cape Town in South Africa, where she opened a school for autistic children which is now called the Vera school. She also helped to develop the Alpha school in Cape Town and in 1978 became head of the Unica School in Pretoria.
In 1981 she returned to the UK to become principal of the Heathlands residential school for autistic children in Wimbledon, south-west London. She completed an MA in special education, graduating through Southampton University and the Tomatis Centre in Paris. In 1989 she became the principal of Linden Bridge school in Worcester Park, Surrey.
At the age of 69, with the intention of retiring, Maggi moved back to Cape Town. But there she found herself in demand. She spent the next 18 years as a consultant, introducing the Teacch system into classrooms and becoming the national coordinator for Makaton, a language programme that uses signs, together with speech and symbols, to help autistic children communicate more effectively.
After introducing Makaton into South African schools she was made an ambassador for Autism SA. In 2016 she was made MBE in recognition of her work on autism, and in 2018 she co-edited a book entitled Autism Mothers Speak Out.
Maggi lit up every situation with her great sense of humour and her love of life. She practised yoga, loved the sun, a swim, coffee, a good book, olive oil and KWV brandy.
She is survived by four children from her two marriages – me from her first and Gary, Tessa and Krista from her second, which ended in divorce – and by 13 grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren and her brother, Denis.