World Autism Awareness Week takes place this year from 26th March to 2nd April and offers a chance for schools, parents, workplaces and the general public to gain a better understanding of what autism is and how it affects everyday life for people with an autism spectrum condition (ASC) and their families. Awareness of what autism is has definitely improved over recent years but there is still a long way to go, especially in terms of translating ‘awareness’ into ‘acceptance’.
As well as helping to raise awareness, Autism Awareness Week is used to raise much-needed funds for autism-related charities to help them to keep providing the support so badly needed. We want to highlight the amazing work done by one such charity, which is local to our Safestore self-storage units in Dunstable: Autism Bedfordshire was set up in 1991 by parents of children with autism to provide support, information and encouragement. In the intervening 26 years, the charity has worked tirelessly to provide practical and emotional support to those who need it.
Autism Bedfordshire provides a range of provisions for children including:
- trampoline clubs (bouncing is very soothing and burns off a lot of energy!)
- youth groups
- parent training courses
- drop in sessions
- a dedicated helpline
They also provide several much-needed services for adults with autism, including:
- skills development (recognising and building on skills that are often overlooked by schools or which people with autism may have found difficult to develop in a school environment)
- employment support (gaining and keeping employment is notoriously difficult for people with autism, especially at interview stages)
- structured social groups.
Understanding has come a long way in recent years but sadly some people still have misconceptions about ASCs. The Autism Bedfordshire’s website
has a mine of information about ASCs and the types of support they offer to children and adults with autism, ideal for anyone wanting to find out more about autism and how best to support themselves or their loved ones in a neuro-typical world.
In a brief nutshell, autism is a neurological difference – people with autism experience the world differently and may respond differently as a result. They may have difficulties with:
- Social communication, e.g. not understanding turns-of-phrase or metaphors or misinterpreting non-verbal communication
- Social interaction, e.g. standing too close or not knowing instinctively when it is their ‘turn’ to speak in conversations
- Social imagination, e.g. finding it hard to predict how others will react, or finding unexpected changes difficult.
Every person with autism is different – just as every person without autism is different – but these three elements (known as the ‘triad of impairments’) are common to most.
People on the autistic spectrum also have great strengths: they can see the world from a different perspective; they can have incredible attention to detail; many have intense and passionate interests; most are exceptionally honest, strict adherents to rules and make very loyal friends. Those strengths can make people with autism ideal employees – hard-working, conscientious, focussed and insightful employees!
Those strengths can sometimes be missed or overlooked, particularly by people who subscribe to the idea that autism is a medical condition to be ‘cured’, which can make people with autism feel isolated, unappreciated and “less than normal”.
Autism Bedfordshire has a year-round mission to educate and above all support people who need their services so that they don’t feel excluded from or by the rest of the world, and to recognise and draw upon their strengths. To do all that, they raise funds in their spanking new charity shop in Dunstable and ask for support via fundraisers like this year’s Silly Sock Day.
We’ve been really pleased to be able to provide free storage at our Luton Dunstable self-storage
units to Autism Bedfordshire for all their equipment: everything from t-shirt printing kits to masses of coffee cups and donations received from the public (awaiting space in their store)!
We hope that you’ll find a way to wear silly socks (or a funny hat or odd shoes or a comedy tie!) and raise some money for this fantastic charity that is doing so much to help people on the spectrum and their families without trying to fundamentally change who they are. It’s a fantastic resource for those who need it and they don’t receive any funding from the government, so please consider raising funds for them during World Autism Awareness Week this year (and next!).