April has been National Autism Awareness Month and Romsey Mill has been reflecting on and connecting with this through daily posts on our facebook page. It has been a chance to highlight autism, a condition which is thought to affect a staggering 1 in 110 children, and our Aspire programme which creates social space for 9-19 year olds with Asperger syndrome or other high-functioning Autistic Spectrum Conditions.
First identified more than 50 years ago, autism affects 1% of UK children and adults, which equates to approximately 600,000 people in the UK. Many of these people remain undiagnosed and without support. If you include their families, autism touches the lives of over two million people every day (National Autistic Society).
In 2012, Romsey Mill worked with 55 young people within our Aspire Programme. This number is growing all the time and by March 2014 we will have increased that number to around 80 young people. As well as a new group in Cambourne, we are increasing the provision for girls. Autism is less often identified and diagnosed in girls, meaning that girls who have the condition can be left feeling even more isolated than their male counterparts. We have a girls-only group for school years 8 - 10 and this term we are launching a second girls group for school years 5 - 7.
“I can make friends and be myself. I enjoy laughter with others who are just like me” (quote from a teenage girl who attends a girls-only group).
Our Aspire groups increase opportunities for social interaction and for interest-based friendships to develop. This has been possible through trips and activities, lego and even playing the trading card game 'Yu-Gi-Oh!' Our recent Aspire coffee mornings have been a valuable opportunity for parents and families to gain support and relax.
As part of the Aspire programme, we not only aim to support young people but also their parents and siblings. One parent says, "Aspire provides a safe happy ‘outlet’ during the week and allows his sister ‘time’ with me... and my son feels embraced for who he is and is encouraged to be who he is.”