As part of Autism Awareness Month, CelebMix Cares aims to raise awareness of the disorder. We will be sharing stories from people who are affected by autism, exploring famous faces who fall on the spectrum as well as highlighting charities that help with understanding autism.
We’d like to shine a light on a UK based charity who’s aim is to break the stigma surrounding autism by improving the choice and quality of services and support for people who are affected by it.
Autism Alliance is a major UK network of 18 specialist autism charities. They support thousands of people with autism, including more than 2000 adults in residential homes, and thousands more through outreach services.
Autism Alliance passionately believe that people with autism should develop their full potential. They also believe that providing specialist autism knowledge and early specialist intervention will help people to achieve this.
The network has a set of core beliefs and values – their mission is to improve the choice and quality of services and support for people with autism as they envisage a better world for those affected.
As an Alliance, they believe that:
- People with autism will always continue to develop skills and strategies and the Alliance can demonstrate positive outcomes for the people they support
- People with autism have significant strengths and can use these to learn and develop skills allowing them to participate as independent and valued citizens, enjoying equal rights and opportunities
- A flexible and personalised approach is necessary to support the development of individual skills
- Through working alongside people with autism, effective strategies can be developed that enable them to contribute to and be consulted on all aspects of their lives
- Consultation through listening to people who use the service, and their representatives is key to effective evolving services
Their values therefore include participation, ensuring that voices are heard, and collaboration, working together to with all parties to increase understanding. They also value effectiveness, ensuring the best outcomes are achieved and aim to build an evidence base around best practice which will enable them to design the best service.
Autism Alliance run schools for children with autism and also provide training for staff in the public and private sectors, as well as their own staff. They are also on the Autism National Programme Board and are represented on the Advisory Group to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Autism.
Whilst they collectively have the ‘largest concentration of practical autism expertise in the UK’, they are always open to welcoming further autism charities who wish to join them. They aim to develop a programme that will provide smaller charities with information and advice.
One of the projects Autism Alliance are involved with is Connect to Autism, a major national awareness project funded by the Department of Health. It’s heartbreaking to know that people with autism are often excluded from their communities due to a lack of understanding. Connect to Autism aims to change this by providing better knowledge of autism through a number of different means.
The project has four major elements: Champions Network, The Autism Charter, National Chains and Local Activities.
The Champions Network brings together individuals with a national profile that seek to promote the many opportunities that society has to improve the lives of people with autism. The Network includes people from diverse backgrounds, all of whom are dedicated to making a difference by being directly involved in activities. Members include Jane Asher (President of the National Autistic Society), Montse Benitez (wife of former Liverpool FC manager Rafa Benitez), Baroness Browing, Dr Carol Buckley, and Carrie and David Grant. Every member has a keen interest in improving awareness of autism, whether it be through work or as people who have been personally affected by autism in one way or another.
The Autism Charter encourages businesses to be autism-friendly. The Charter was developed by a group of people with autism and its purpose is to encourage businesses to sign up to the Charter. Signing up means that they are committed to receiving relevant training from Autism Alliance and therefore become autism-friendly. Other agreements include proactively responding to suggestions from people with autism, raising awareness of the ways in which people with autism communicate and how to deal with them effectively, as well as creating a clear process for staff members to disclose their autism if they wish to do so. You can read The Autism Charter in full here.
The Alliance also works with organisations to spread further awareness and encourage them to sign up to the Charter. Initially, the Alliance is working with up to 12 national organisations in a pilot project, in which each organisation will identify six of their venues and make them autism-friendly. The aim is to then roll out this project across hundreds of venues in England. Once they are deemed ‘autism-friendly’, they will be given a sticker to display in their venue, and will also be listed on Autism Connect. It is deemed fairly straightforward to create an autism-friendly environment and it is possible for all sorts of organisations to achieve this status.
In order to assist, the Alliance charities will provide specific training to ensure that the front line staff are autism aware. In an age where more people than ever are affected by autism, it is so important that there are plenty of autism-friendly environments in which people can feel comfortable in. One of the symptoms of autism is having difficulty communicating and understanding the world around them. They can easily feel anxious in unfamiliar environments and if they feel uncomfortable, they may choose to stay at home instead. This is unfair as every person should have the right to feel comfortable in outside environments. No autistic person should be treated unfairly just because they see the world differently. The purpose of this scheme is to create environments in which autistic people will feel comfortable in.
So far, Diggerland, NHS Business Services Association and Nissan Skills Foundation have signed up to the Charter, providing recreational, health and education services to autistic people however this is nowhere near enough. It is vital that more awareness is raised nationally so that autistic people can be treated more fairly in their communities and external environments. However, perhaps the way to gain better recognition nationally is by growing the support of local communities.
Local activities are at the forefront of the project. Without local communities jumping on board, the project wouldn’t be successful. There are currently eight pilot areas in which Autism Alliance members are working to transform attitudes towards autism through awareness-raising activities and training. Similarly to the National Organisations, those who sign up will be listed on the Autism Connect website and also receive a sticker which states that they are an autism-friendly organisation.
So far, over 50 local organisations across England have signed up to the initiative, including businesses in the recreational, arts and culture, public and voluntary sectors. It’s also fantastic to see six sports venues, including Newcastle United FC and Sunderland AFC, become autism-friendly as they can often be difficult venues for autistic people to attend. The Charter aims to continue their expansion both locally and nationwide, and any organisations that wish to join the campaign for equality can read more here.
It’s remarkable to see how much work Autism Alliance puts in to try and break the stigma surrounding autism. One thing’s for sure – no human should ever feel excluded in any environment due to being different. It is so important for communities to work together to gain a better understanding of how to treat people with autism and to ensure that they feel comfortable in their surrounding environments. Together, we can make a small difference to the lives of autistic people, purely by raising awareness and being a bit more understanding when it comes to those who live with autism.
For further information on Autism Alliance and how you can help to break the stigma, please visit their website at: autism-alliance.org.uk. Alternatively, you can connect with them on Twitter @autism_alliance.
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