Autism Bedfordshire helping those with the lifelong developmental disability and their families
Autism Bedfordshire is the only voluntary organisation in the county that is specialised in supporting children and adults with autism.
Autism is a lifelong, developmental disability. It affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them.
Sarah Grimes, corporate and community fundraiser at Autism Bedfordshire, said:
“It is not a learning disability, it’s not a learning difficulty and it is not a mental health condition.”
It started as a small ad in a local newspaper
The first Autism Bedfordshire meeting was the result of an ad placed in a local newspaper. A family was looking to meeting families in similar situations. Sarah said:
“They wanted to know that they weren’t the only ones and they wanted to know how to get help
“Seven other families turned up, some of those families are still members today.”
From this small meeting of parents, a charity with a simple helpline was established. It has grown into a suite of services to support other families.
Services from Autism Bedfordshire help break down the barriers to social participation for people with autism and their families. It provides places where they can go and feel comfortable, accepted and not judged by society.
It helps people to build their confidence and social skills by taking part in social activities and mixing with other people. An example is the LOAF sessions.
Loads of Autistic Fun (L.O.A.F.)
L.O.A.F. is a Saturday morning activity group for the whole family can attend. Held fortnightly during term time at four venues across the county:
- Wootton (Bedford)
- Linslade (Leighton Buzzard)
For three hours from 10am they provide an environment where all children up to age 12 (those with Autism and Autism Spectrum Conditions (A.S.C.), their siblings) and their parents/carers are supported by trained staff and volunteers.
Case study – Francesca aged 6
Francesca was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in 2015. She’s now nearly six and attends mainstream primary with a full time 1 to 1 teaching assistant. She has very limited language, sensitivities to noise and difficulties interacting with other children. She’s a lovely little girl and is making good progress.
Her family was given details of Autism Bedfordshire at Francesca’s diagnosis appointment and immediately joined as members, enabling them to attend an ASD introductory course for parents. After a year on the waiting list, they were given a place at the LOAF Group in April 2017. Francesca receives 1 to 1 support to enjoy activities such as cooking and soft play for up to half the session.
“It’s impossible to overstate the value of meeting other parents of children with ASD. Activities such going to birthday parties and using public transport are normal, everyday events for most families, but for our daughter they can be very distressing. Discussing strategies with other parents who are in the same situation is so helpful and helps us feel less isolated. For Francesca, who would really struggle to access activities that other little girls her age enjoy, attending LOAF group means she can be herself, participate in a range of activities and be supported by caring staff and volunteers who fully understand her needs.”
There are social groups for adults, activities include walking and going to the cinema.
There can be limited options for autistic adults without a learning difficulty. Autism Bedfordshire has developed a range of services for autistic adults without statutory support and are at at risk of social isolation.
One of the services on offer is employment support. This is for adults with high functioning autism or Asperger’s syndrome and are looking to enter the employment market within the next 18 months. Sarah said:
“There is help finding jobs, writing a cv and preparing for interviews. We also offer support once they are in work.”
Autism Bedfordshire is looking to build a supported housing project made up of a small set of one bedroom apartments. While the tenants will be independent there will be support on hand.
Upcoming events from Autism Bedfordshire
24th August Autism Bedfordshire will be collecting money in-store at Tesco on Riverfield Drive, Bedford.
11th September Autism & Relationships – A Toolkit for Practitioners
A one day course of teaching resources
26th September Autism in the Classroom
A one day course to understand both the main difficulties experienced by autistic children and some of their strengths
More details can be found here
More information on Autism Bedfordshire’s services and fundraising (it does not receive any funding from Central Government) can be found on it’s website. It’s helpline can be called on 01234 350704. It is open from 9am to 5pm, Mondays to Fridays (excluding bank holidays).