In our bid to keep the ‘Awareness of Autism’ a very current thing that is always on the rise it is important for us to always be showing the bigger news items because THEY are what attracts attention.

If we achieve something, we let you know! If we come across something we don’t like such as an attitude within a service or professional setting then again we let you know. People want to see the BIG positive stories and also want to know when something needs our attention. Those stories and articles such as Anna winning an Award or Austin pointing out a failing that has been spotted catch peoples eye and as word is spread so awareness is raised.

When Anna, Sean or Austin are out speaking somewhere be it from Westminster to a front room in Wellingborough you can bet it is being done for a GOOD reason.

When all of our faithful followers and supporters like or share something we have written or said then the word is spread. This is a positive on two levels. The first being that some people outside of autism see these things and wonder what the fuss is about. As they look deeper into what is being talked about they slowly start to pick up and learn things. Right there is awareness in action. The second positive is that awareness is also spread and grown WITHIN the autistic community. Each week parents/families already touched by autism, who have been battling alone, suddenly discover by this spreading of the word that their ARE other families like theirs out there and they find a support network to welcome them in where they thought there was none.

So, people see all this and good things come of it. But, is that it? It is great work on its own but is that all the AKO team do? Well let me tell you……..NO!……….away from our events and that awareness raising there is a LOT going. The problem is we just don’t have enough time to talk about it and we don’t like to bang the drum about what we consider to be the job we should be doing…….no one walks into a class and writes a story or article on what Mrs Jones, Geography Teacher, has just done for the last hour. It is her job and she gets on with it. This is very much our ethos, However as pointed out by many, sometimes it IS important to stand up and be counted.

There are two MAJOR elements to the Anna Kennedy Online charity  that unless you are being directly touched by them tend to be unseen. Some not realising that these things exist have even said ‘WOW…..I didn’t know!!’

With the AMAZING support that we have received from people such as ‘West Ham United’ we are able to offer our very own Helpline. This helpline is there for ALL to access and if you ask us to call you back it is FREE! we endeavour to answer all autism related questions and offer support via it. Sometimes it can just be a case of a parent/family wanting a question answering or even just looking for some comfort and reassurance at a tough time (we have ALL had them).

Other times the service becomes more than this and the full weight of our Behavioural Support and Legal advice swings into action. As an example one call made at the begining of January from a mother desperate for help has now become a full working case where our Advocate and Behavioural Support Officer is working with her. Not only is he there to advise but he has been attending meetings and has now worked to push for a thorough diagnosis and statement for the child of this mother where everyone else, School/Doctor etc, had just ignored and abandoned her. That one call has now transformed that mother and child’s lives and right now a much brighter and positive future is now open to them. That is just ONE call of the many received not just weekly but daily. With a small team it is DIFFICULT for us to keep up and sometimes people have to leave a message but WE ALWAYS GET BACK TO THEM. There are set hours for the more general enquiries but our operative (through his own dedicated choice….the AKO way!)  leaves the phone always in reach and has answered and advised people such as a mother who  needed help 11pm one Sunday evening. Autism doesn’t stop for everyone at home so we try to ensure we don’t either.

The second main element is that of our ‘Training Services’. For over a year now AKO has been offering it’s own dedicated training packages. Again, we just don’t get to shout about these very often. Our sessions are targeted at, well, everyone!

Photo: Over the last two days Austin has been out and about bringing awareness training to 50 professionals ranging from Social Workers to Family Liason Officers, SENCOs, TAs and Teachers. We will try and follow him Wednesday when he trains a large family/parent group.

Parents come to learn more and better understand the things that they see happening in front of them. Yes they already have a great deal of experience but it is amazing how a little more understanding of WHY certain things happen and how best to deal with them can make a big difference. Our trainer always jokes that he wants to put himself out of work becase if he can give a BETTER understanding of the very basics and mechanics within autism then less people would need to call for support and help around certain issues. This hasn’t quite worked out for our trainer because now after sessions he has people contact us…..but now to say ‘hey this just happened and rather than worry I knew what to do because I thought about what you have said, THANKS!’

The same applies to all professionals from teachers to social workers and ANYONE that comes into contact with someone on the Spectrum. Our training is very much about sharing information and changing the way people think about and perceive autism.

We know lots of people/groups are charging a lot for training but we don’t see the point in this as it restricts the people who can access and receive it so as a charity we try to subsidise this to a low price that EVERYONE can afford. We are looking to SPREAD the word an cover the costs not make money!  Again such subsidisation is only possible thanks to the likes off ‘West Ham United’. Our trainer is a life long West Ham fan so he likes to publicise their support where ever he can!…….(he has even been found drawing formation plans for seating and handing out orange slices during the breaks! he sees himself as our very own Big Sam!)

So there you have it! a lot more going on than we maybe always let on…….oh and that is without mentioning …….conference talks……parent/support group visits……..school talks……..legal advice on SEN and social care……Autism Dance Day……..Autism’s Got Talent……

written by: Austin Hughes

(for any enquiries or further information email lisa.robins@thevines.org.uk. Our Helpline number is 07710 597457 mon-fri, 9:30am – 16:00 but often answered for emergencies at all other times)

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