In the beginning, we struggled massively to get support for me and Jack. We had a Portage worker, and a Speech and Language Therapist appointed very early on, but unfortunately, it took a long time to actually get diagnosed with autism, and so lots of doors were closed to us. Portage actually called one group and told them there was absolutely NO WAY ‘this child’ has autism. If she could see us now!
It wasn’t until Jack started reception class that I met another mum in the office and got talking. Samantha had a little boy on the same phasing in timetable as Jack, and so every day we met in the office to collect our boys. We shared our nuggets of knowledge and got to know each other well.
One day when walking home together, she mentioned she was going to Stay and Play that night, through Autism Northumberland. I replied that I wished I could take Jack, but they’ll need a diagnosis and we don’t have one. Sam assured me that actually, they would welcome children before their diagnosis. So when I went home that night, I had a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, a door was opening.
Autism Northumberland is a charity based in Cramlington, Northumberland. Founded by autism parent Lesley Cole, the charity aims to fill a hole in the local service, helping autistic children to access services and activities, and advising those services on how to make reasonable adjustments to support the children and enable them to have an inclusive experience.
Within a couple of weeks, we were registered as members and attending groups. Jack loved Stay and Play, and we met some wonderful parents there who I am still friends with and I see at other groups. When they began doing exclusive sessions with Airbox Bounce on a Tuesday evening, we became regulars. We tried Lego club, but at the time, Jack just wanted to harass everyone so we resolved to go back when he was a bit older.
Now, Autism Northumberland is part of our weekly routine – STARS on a Monday which is a fabulous groups of mixed ages with a range of activities; and Airbox Bounce on a Tuesday evening.
What I love about Autism Northumberland is that the staff and volunteers are amazing, and that the activities are very well structured and organised. Where some charities and social enterprises in the area fail, is in the organisation and structuring of the groups. Many groups claim to be autism aware or ‘autism friendly’, and you can see the thought was there, but the execution was incredibly lacking. This is NEVER the case with Autism Northumberland, and they are very receptive if you have any concerns or issues, even going as far as to prepare social stories for past events if needed.
Autism Northumberland have been an excellent source of support. We see ‘other Lesley’ (there are two Lesleys there!) and Kirsty the most, and they know us all inside out.
Tomorrow, we are going on a trip to a local farm and I for one can’t wait to spend time with our autism family!