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Staff and service users from The Disabilities Trust and teachers and students from the Trust’s Heathermount School in Ascot are participating in ‘World Autism Awareness Week’ (27th March – 2nd April) with the aim of raising awareness of autism within their community.

autistic Male service user working with support worker  on a bird house in Hollyrood woodshed

They will be taking part in a number of activities across the South East to promote an awareness about autism including:

  • Highlighting the great Speech and Language Therapists at Hollyrood
  • A walk in Ashdown Forest in Sussex, involving staff and service users from some of our autism and physical disabilities services as well as community houses - Hollyrood, Ernest Kleinwort Court, and one of our Sussex Houses
  • Sharing stories about art in autism
  • Dressing in blue on Friday 31st March
  • A positive case study about Andrew*
  • Fun community activities such as bake sales and bag packs at local supermarkets
  • And a daily fact about autism shared on our social media pages

*name changed

You can keep up with all our World Autism Awareness Week activities right here on this web page or follow us on social media.

If you are planning an event to raise awareness from autism then we would love to hear about it. Send us a message on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #SeeMeNotDisability and #WAAW and we may share your event.

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autistic Male service user with support worker in an arts and crafts session in The Maples

Promoting an awareness of autism

Autism is a complex neurodevelopmental condition experienced by more one in 100 people in the UK. Individuals with this condition experience persistent difficulties in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts and restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests and activities which may include stereotyped or repetitive motor movements; insistence on sameness; highly restricted and fixated interests, and hyper or hypo reactivity to sensory input (e.g. sound, smell, taste and touch).

Despite extensive research, including numerous neuroimaging studies, we still do not know what causes Autism. Increasing recognition and improved diagnosis has resulted in many more people being identified with this condition. However, there are still significant gaps in the support available for the estimated 700,000 people in the UK with autism and their families.

According to information recently compiled by the National Autistic Society*, 63% of children are not in the kind of school their parents believe would best support them. 34% of children with autism say that the worst thing about being at school is being picked on by other children. 17% of children have been suspended from school (48% on more than three occasions) and 4% have been expelled. Only 25% of young people with autism attend further education compared to over 50% of children who do not have autism. In adulthood, only 16% of adults with autism are in full-time, paid employment and only 32% are in some type of paid work. Only 10% of adults receive employment support but 53% say they want it.

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However, early diagnosis and support can give the confidence to lead to meaningful employment and fulfilling lives. Heathermount, The Disabilities Trust’s school in Ascot for children and young people who have a range of autistic spectrum conditions, has two former students who are now substantive members of staff.

Thomas works in the main school kitchen as a catering assistant (for more information see Thomas’ story) and Michael is a teaching assistant. Both Thomas and Michael joined Heathermount in the primary department some years ago and remained in the school until their secondary education was completed.

Michael started at Heathermount School when he was eight years old after having many difficult encounters in his previous mainstream school.

Michael said: “I found reading and writing extremely difficult as well as social interaction. I had a low attention span and found working in a team really hard. After a year at Heathermount I started making great progress at school and I become more social outside of school.”

Michael attended a local mainstream school on a part-time basis to gain a BTEC Level 3 (A Level equivalent) National Certificate in Performing Arts: Dance. He also took the apprenticeship route, successfully applying for one of the teaching assistant posts which had come about because of the increasing numbers of students at Heathermount. Michael is now working towards his qualification as a drama teacher. He coaches young people for exams and regularly leads the drama lessons. Michael learned to drive and now drives himself independently to work each morning.

The outcomes for Heathermount as an employer are significant. Most of the older students who remember Thomas and Michael as students can see the benefit of hard work and remaining focussed on the job in hand. Thomas and Michael also have an insight of how autism can affect the actions of the students. In addition, Heathermount School has two extremely valued members of staff who are hard working and reliable.

Autism Awareness Week, which runs from 27th March – 2nd April, provides an opportunity to increase public understanding and awareness of this complex and often `hidden` condition. It also presents an opportunity to highlight the service deficits which currently exist in the UK, within Education, Social and Health Care and to identify the enduring benefits of providing high quality support for children and adults with autism.

*NAS research information source

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Speech and Language Therapy in Hollyrood

At our autism service Hollyrood in Lindfield, the speech and language team (SLT) offer invaluable provisions for service users and their support workers. The overall goal of the SLT team is to ensure that service users are able to effectively communicate throughout their day, for example expressing needs, making choices and socialising.

They are able to assist the support workers by giving them a better understanding of the service users communication and strategies that will support them. In many cases visual strategies, such as Makaton signing, is implemented and added to their plan. Makaton communication is a form of communication using signs and symbols. The SLT team offer training on Makaton to the support workers and the service users and offer refresher lessons as and when are needed.

The SLT team provide sessions for the service users, such as arts and crafts, cookery, sensory communication, and can join community activities. These sessions promote effective communication and also teach and model visual strategies for service users and support workers, such as how to offer visual choices, developing signing skills.

Being a speech and language therapist can be quite challenging but it can also be highly rewarding. SLT Assistant Carol Brown, said: “No day is ever the same. It’s extremely satisfying to be able to put a plan in place which is able to support a service user to engage with an activity he or she enjoys”.

Helen Chiu, SLT from SymbolUK at Hollyrood said: “It’s really important to work with the support workers and keep in contact with them as much as possible. Plans for service users can change frequently, so going back and fourth with them, working out a successful plan is key.”