Thursday 10th March, 2022

Ruth's reflections

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Ruth’s Reflections

Ruth Watt, our Aspire Programme Coordinator, has run Aspire, Romsey Mill's work with autistic children and young people, since 2005. Here she shares how she has seen this vital work evolve and grow.

When I started running the project there was one youth club of about 10 autistic boys. We quickly saw the need to add more clubs. The project ballooned from there and we now have 12 weekly youth clubs running in four locations across Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire.

There are currently four people on the Aspire team and we support around 150 autistic children and young people a week, and their families. Our support is for children and young people who are diagnosed with autism and are in mainstream schools between year 5 and age 18.

When a young person joins an Aspire youth club, we take care and time over the process because often autistic people can struggle to manage change or anything new. We speak to their parent or carer on the phone first, then arrange a time to meet the young person to introduce ourselves and help them learn more about the youth club.

If more steps are needed to help them feel confident to try the club, we put those in place. These may include video calls or messages or a visit to the youth club venue with their parent when it's quiet. At their first youth club session they may come for the whole 1.5 hours, or just ten minutes. We are led by the young person and their family, so that they have the best chance of joining the youth club successfully.

Youth club sessions typically include a range of activities, from art and crafts to games console, Lego, sport and board games. All of these are activities that help promote collaborative play, turn-taking and friendship building, which is ultimately the point of Aspire.

Autistic young people and their families can experience acute loneliness. Our youth clubs are designed to help autistic young people feel like they have somewhere to belong and an opportunity to make friends, with the support of our Aspire staff and volunteers.

We also support some of our young people one-to-one through mentoring and alternative education work. This allows us the opportunity to support autistic young people in a more targeted way, around a number of issues that they may face. Our one-to-one work is an area that is growing, and we know we could do so much more with it to help the young people.

Our youth clubs and support provide a space for autistic young people to be themselves, and a brief break for parents and carers. The amount of difference this makes to the families that access to Aspire always catches me by surprise. Although a huge amount of planning, care and professionalism goes into creating Aspire's support, what we are doing is relatively simple. Aspire's families have told us that our work is life-changing.

Romsey Mill's Christmas Appeal at the end of 2021 was specifically for Aspire's work. The total raised was over £22,000, which will help us to continue delivering this essential work into 2022, and as we look to expand our work.

I'm so grateful to each and every person and who has donated to the appeal.  Thank you!

The waiting list for our youth clubs and one-to-one support is growing every week. We know that the need for our work is huge; but we are so excited to see how Aspire grows and develops in 2022.