Day centre helps to break down autism barriers

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Jeremy may come across as rude. He struggles to maintain eye contact and shifts uncomfortably in his seat when you ask him a question directly. But he is not being impolite and doesn’t mean to appear disinterested – these are just a few of the numerous symptoms of autism.

For the thousands of people that have the condition, everyday, mundane tasks can become a real challenge, which is why Autism East Midlands run centres to help people and their families.

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The Mundy Street day centre in Heanor, is all about giving people with autism the opportunity to try new things, meet people and enjoy new experiences and challenges.

And last week the centre received a visit from Erewash MP Maggie Throup, who was keen to promote the charity’s work, to coincide with Autism Awareness Week (March 27 to 31).

Maggie, who took a tour of the centre’s facilities, said: “I was really impressed by the wide range of services and support that Autism East Midlands provide at this site and others throughout the region.

“The dedication and commitment of the staff was so obvious to me and I could see for myself just how much the service users were enjoying their time at the centre.”

Autism East Midlands was started on the initiative of a group of parents in 1968. Today, it is still led by the parents and friends of people with autism.

The centre is open to service users aged from 18 to 65, and plans and timetables are tailored to suit specific interests and abilities.

All the activities and workshops specifically focus on developing communication skills, social integration, confidence and independence.

There are so many activities on offer to encourage engagement including arts and crafts, pottery, cooking, gardening, two sensory rooms and day trips which have included long walks and horse riding.

Jeremy can appreciate the need for these workshops and social events.

He says: “Busy places like shops or getting on buses make me nervous and I’m learning how to cope with them. The centre and staff are really helping.”

And that is exactly what day service manager Paul Harrison hopes to do – help improve the lives of the service users.

He said: “People all across Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire visit our Mundy Street centre because of its excellent facilities.

“Our aim is to provide a safe environment, but one which allows the ability to increase independence.

“We are always trying to come up with new ideas on how to change things and keep them current – and we welcome suggestions from the service users too, after all it is their service we value and want to better – they are the priority.

“We run an organised centre however, we do need to be flexible in our approach as many of our visitors have issues with structure and routine. Sometimes they may need some time to relax and become less anxious before starting an activity, which we understand.

“We strive to give them supported opportunities to try new things, speak up, feel involved and have a sense of worth.

“Our trained staff also give parents a break, leaving them in safe hands gives them peace of mind.”

And on the MP’s visit to the centre on March 17, Paul added: “It was an absolute delight to have Maggie here at Mundy Street and meet our service users as well as discuss current news, issues and raise awareness of autism in the local community.”

Current news included a unique jobseekers ‘passport’ set to be launched later this month, which could make the journey to work easier and more enjoyable for those with disabilities.

In the same way someone travelling internationally can cross borders into places they’ve never been able to access via the well-known travel passport, it’s hoped the ‘About me’ passport will enable those with autism, hidden conditions and other disabilities to cross over into the world of employment.

The document allows people to state their conditions, and situations which the individual may find stressful or nerve-racking.

Alongside the passport will also be an online autism and neurodiversity toolkit for staff and managers in jobcentres to provide the latest information, guidance and support for people with hidden impairments in, or looking for, work.

The passport will be launched as part of a Department for Work and Pensions initiative to promote awareness of the condition.

Paul said of the scheme: “Although it won’t effect a lot of our service users at Mundy Street, I do see that the jobseeker’s passport will be a successful tool to better aid supporting individuals with autism.

“It will enable staff to fully understand how best to communicate and interact with each individual and this will in turn help them better match with employment types that are right for them.”

For more information visit: www.autismeastmidlands.org.uk.