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Vital funds keep autism ‘lifeline’ to hand
"It has been a lifeline to us.”
Claire Whiteley describes the impact upon her family of an organisation established in Bradford more than 20 years ago which was in danger of closing before a welcome injection of funds.
Bradford Autism Support has helped thousands of people whose lives are spent either caring for, or working with, children and young people with the condition.
Claire, who lives in Greengates, and her husband William, attend support groups for parents at the group’s base, the Autism Support Centre in Caledonia Street, Bradford.
The couple’s son Joseph Midwood began attending two years ago. “He has gained such a lot,” says Claire. “He is learning different life skills and has made many new friends. He loves going – he runs up and down flapping his arms. I can tell he really likes it.”
She adds: “And for me – I’ve benefited from guidance and advice, as well as from a listening ear, which is invaluable.”
The charity – which last year changed its name from Bradford and District Autistic Support Group – offers safe, soft play areas, a sensory room, and help from experienced staff.
Support groups held at the centre include help for those families awaiting diagnosis or newly-diagnosed with autism, open sessions, a group for Asian mothers, and one-to-one work with parents covering issues such as schooling.
“Bradford Autism Support has at least 500 members – parents and carers – as well as around 100 professionals with whom we work and who refer others to us,” says service co-ordinator David Riley.
“We want to carry on and expand the service. There are 4,700 children in Bradford with a diagnosis of autism and challenging behaviours – 2.7 per cent of children in the district. Nationally that figure is one per cent, so we have almost three times that.”
As with many organisations, concern surrounds funding for the future. Having previously applied for Big Lottery funding without success, they made a second attempt last year and were successful, securing £425,000.
“We were thrilled,” says David. “Funding was being squeezed. It looked as if we might have had to close or run on a reduced basis. We now have four years of funding.”
He adds that the group is grateful for other sources of funds – an annual £28,000 from Bradford Council. “That is enough to pay a part-time play worker and rent, and we are very thankful for it, and Lloyds TSB is giving us £25,000 over two years.”
Now with four staff – one full-time – and seasonal workers, the service has also been helped by cash from Thomas Cook and the disabled children’s programme Aiming High.
Playgroups for those under the age of 11 offer the opportunity for siblings to attend, and two new groups give siblings of older children with more complex autism disorders the chance to meet.
“Siblings have their own issues,” says David. “Quite often they are given caring duties beyond their years. Often they feel resentful that their sibling has this disability, but feel guilty about this. They can come along to talk about their feelings and have some time to themselves.”
In recent years, David has noticed changes in the nature of the work. “More of our work is with parents and carers in areas such as school issues. Problems include schools failing to meet the needs of children, schools excluding children, and benefit difficulties.”
“Existing training is excellent,” he adds, “but there needs to be more in these areas.”
For parental support, the service works with organisations including Barnardo’s and Bradford Council, both who carry out valuable work. The Council provides training in autism for class teachers as well as paying for residential specialists.
The authority also works closely with social care and health professionals and with parents’ support groups. A new facility at Lister Lane for children with higher functioning autism who can cope with the curriculum but not a large school building opens later this year.
George McQueen, assistant director for Access and Inclusion, said: “We provide a wide range of services for pupils on the autism spectrum and these augment the professional practice provided in Bradford schools. We also work with parents’ groups to ensure their children receive an education which meets their needs.”
Helped by funding from parents, Bradford Autism Support made it possible for a number of families to have a break on the Yorkshire coast. “Eleven families went to Reighton Sands for four days,” says Nikki Baptie, information link worker with the service. “We try to give as much support as possible, and make a difference.”