This week (26 March - 2 April) is World Autism Awareness Week; seven days devoted to raising awareness of the condition, and raising awareness and money for the National Autistic Society.
Hightown Housing Association runs 62 Learning Disability schemes across Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire and a number of these support people with autism.
Hightown’s Operations Manager, Zoe Collins, who has 18 years’ experience working in Care & Supported Housing, manages two schemes in Buckinghamshire which support people with Autism – at Stokebury House in Amersham and White Lion Road in Little Chalfont. She explains how Hightown helps those with autism living at their schemes:
“One of the main areas of support is helping our service users understand different social circumstances. It can be especially important to break information down for them. We also aim to help them with their emotions and understanding their feelings.”
Hightown staff offer personal support with cooking and budgeting, as well as emotional support. Teams at Stokebury House and White Lion Road offer a person-centred planning approach, based around the needs of each individual.
Zoe highlights some of the misconceptions surrounding autism:
“Because you often can’t see any difference in someone physically, many people assume that they don’t have support needs. A lot of people can perceive adults with autism as negative or socially awkward, but it is simply because they don’t cope well socially. If they could spend a day in their shoes, I’m sure they would find it much easier to understand.”
People with high-functioning autism can find it difficult to interact with other people in the community. Zoe describes how one resident encountered difficulty when out shopping:
“This isn’t because he’s not capable of shopping, but he finds it difficult when, for example, someone takes something off the shelf while he is looking at it and feels they are being rude and may become upset.”
She gives another example of a resident at who, before arriving at Stokebury House, had been heavily dependent on his parents:
“Since he moved into Stokebury House, it’s been amazing to watch his confidence grow and how he has become really independent. He volunteers at a local radio station and is a drummer in a band. He has also been on a job interview skills course and has even started working one day a week as a window cleaner. It has been a great relief for his parents that he has settled in so well here.”
Zoe believes that care and support for those with autism has improved in recent years:
“There is more of an awareness of autism now. Previously, it would have been put in the same category as mental health but it is much different to conditions such as bipolar and schizophrenia. Staff are more skilled to support service users socially and there are a lot more organisations offering help.”
Zoe maintains there is still more to be done, explaining that psychological support for adults with high functioning could still be improved, with more specialists needed in the area.