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Encouraging friendship through support

Autism Awareness Month is a great opportunity to provide further understanding around autism, to pause and reflect; to see how far we’ve come, but equally, how much more work there is still to be done.

Elizabeth is Regional Head for the North at BBC Children in Need, and Dan works in our PR and Celebrity Team. Autism is very close to both of their hearts; Elizabeth’s ten-year-old son is autistic, whilst Dan himself was diagnosed back in 2008.

In a special piece for Autism Awareness Month, Elizabeth and Dan visited Autism Society for Greater Manchester (ASGMA), a project funded by BBC Children in Need, to see first-hand how young people on the autism spectrum are supported.

Elizabeth

In our work lives, Dan and I don’t often spend much time together. But we are both very passionate about projects like ASGMA. We want to ensure that they continue to provide safe and fun spaces for autistic young people, giving them a chance to make friends and learn new skills.

Whilst our experiences of autism are also very different, we both understand that the work these projects provide is truly pivotal.

At home I am mum to three children, one of whom is autistic.

The first thing many people notice about my son is his laugh. It’s infectious. He’s the first person to laugh at any joke and he laughs loudly without any inhibitions.

But from his point of view, the world can be a frustrating and frightening place. He often becomes overwhelmed and can seem to others around him like he has lost control; like a toddler having a tantrum.

Traffic lights are also a big problem for us; he doesn’t trust them, and this can often make us late. When we’re late, he becomes very anxious, life becomes distorted and problems can seem completely out of proportion. His experiences of the world are very different; but it’s a part of his identity, not an illness that can be cured.

Dan

I was diagnosed with autism back in 2008, at the age of 14.

Life as it is can be complicated enough, but for us on the spectrum, we see things through a different lens entirely.

Our brains are wired differently; we see patterns, shapes and colours that others can’t see.

I think it’s fair to say that autism awareness has come a long way since I was diagnosed.

We hear autism being talked about a lot more, in workplaces, schools and the media. However there is still plenty to be done; continuing to raise awareness and supporting those on the spectrum, to help them reach their full potential.

Autism Society for Greater Manchester (ASGMA) provides social opportunities for children and young people on the autistic spectrum. Their support gives the children and young people an opportunity to build friendships, to learn new skills and to prepare for adult life in the working world.

We decided to visit ASGMA earlier this month to learn more about the support they offer and the children who they help.

When we arrived, we were greeted by Les, who heads up the team of staff, and Chris, who is on their board of Trustees. The first thing that struck us was how grateful they both were for the funding and support provided by BBC Children in Need.

Les and Chris explained how BBC Children in Need help to fund the salaries of staff who run the youth and activity groups, providing a safe space for children and young people to build friendships and learn new skills. The funding also helps with admin and running costs which help to keep the project running smoothly.

Elizabeth

Les and Chris introduced us to youth worker Zoe. She grew up in Manchester, attending youth clubs herself when she was younger, so she knows first-hand the positive power of a strong role model.

Zoe’s role at the project is essentially to be there for the young people as a point of support and get them involved with a range of activities that offer a chance to socialise and learn new skills. Whether that’s decorating T-shirts and creating pieces of artwork, hosting music sessions, or visiting the project’s sensory room.

She was obviously very passionate about her work, telling us what a pleasure it is to come in every day and work with the young people. She’s filled with a sense of pride, knowing how many young people they’ve helped together. But there is still work to be done and others that need their help.

Zoe explained that many of the parents she works with can seem over protective at first (yes, that’s me…). They want to protect their children and can be reluctant to leave them at the youth club. But with the right support away from parents, many children can fly in terms of confidence.

Dan

The young people at ASGMA are encouraged to engage in society and social opportunities in a positive way.

Life’s unexpected journey can be a challenging one, but at the same time, an exciting one. We all need time, patience, and above all, understanding.

ASGMA gives all their staff fantastic and thorough training, so they are best-equipped to understand what those on the spectrum need.

Elizabeth

When you take into account that many diagnoses of autism happen at a young age, it’s vitally important that projects such as ASGMA exist.

As a parent, you just want to give your child as much help and support as possible, but perhaps aren’t sure where to turn.

But the truth is you’re not alone, there are fantastic projects such as ASGMA all over the UK which are there and ready to be by your side.

Dan

Autism Awareness Month is a fantastic opportunity to take a moment to reflect and celebrate the brilliant work that is being done to support young people with autism. It’s a chance to champion the incredible individuals they are, and the many positive and amazing things they give to the world.

We can be proud of how far we’ve come, but let’s continue to grow in this area – those on the spectrum may see the world slightly differently, but we all have a gift and something to give.

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