Going the extra mile to help children with autism thrive

Teenager Jen* became aware that she was different to her friends and that they no longer wished to hang around with her. She was socially awkward and no longer seemed to fit in.

When her mum discovered Autism Bedfordshire and its evening social group Wanted Fun, she described it as “a godsend”.

Harry’s* parents said their autistic son was rarely able to have fun and be himself, but thrived at the organisation’s summer holiday scheme. “This has been crucial to the health and wellbeing of our whole family and our ability to cope and carry on caring,” they said. “We have no social network. Thank you so, so much. This has been amazing.”

These two examples are typical of the impact made by Autism Bedfordshire, an organisation which provides emotional and practical support for 1,500 young people, adults and their families each year.

Our airport company, Luton Rising, has provided vital funding to Autism Bedfordshire over eight years, and this ensures that autistic children and young people in the town get opportunities to join in dedicated holiday schemes, Saturday clubs and after-school activities.

Specialist trained staff and volunteers, who understand autism spectrum conditions, are present at all times to lead suitably-tailored activities including:

  • arts and crafts
  • toys and games
  • soft play
  • bouncy castles
  • outdoor play
  • sensory experiences

The purpose and benefits of the sessions are varied and wide-ranging.

Saturday morning’s family support and activity group offers a calm, safe and supportive environment for under-12s to have fun and meet others. The focus is on building confidence and self-esteem and developing social, communication and life skills.

Summer activity schemes allow children and young people aged from 3 to 17 years to ‘be themselves’ in a reassuring environment. Without the one-to-one staffing provided, most would be unable to enjoy the range of activities and outings that are offered.

The evening social group is for young people with Asperger Syndrome aged from 10 to 17 years, giving them access to social, educational and recreational activities in the same way as everyone else – but with the important support of trained staff. For some, this is the only place they go to other than school or home.

Meanwhile, sports and leisure activities are designed to improve mental health, reduce anxiety and provide supported opportunities for socialising in a safe, judgement-free environment.

Gill Christmas, Funding Manager for Autism Bedfordshire, said: “Because it is a ‘spectrum’ condition, no two autistic people are the same. In-depth knowledge and understanding about autism is vital in order to support each individual properly.

“We provide specialist training for all staff and volunteers working at our groups, so they are well-equipped to support each individual’s needs and to provide positive, life-enriching experiences.”

Jen’s mum explained how her daughter is just one of those who are now able to really enjoy being with young people their age who are understanding and do not judge.

“She loves the fact that they share feelings and experiences, and discovering that other people often feel just as she does,” she said. “Being able to talk to like-minded people means the world to her and that is something she has not been able to do at school or college, where she was very unhappy.”