26 years of growth 1991Autism Bedfordshire was founded when a few parents got together to find help for their autistic children, share experiences and support each other. They established a charity that began with a telephone helpline and grew into a suite of services that would give other families invaluable support over the years to come. 1995In response to the stress and exhaustion parents reported during the summer holidays, we introduced our first Summer Activity Scheme to provide activities for children with autism and give their parents a much-needed break. 2002Our 2001 membership consultation showed families also wanted to go out together and meet others in a similar situation. In response to this we launched a term-time Saturday morning support/activity group called ‘Loads of Autistic Fun' (L.O.A.F.) which was for children with autism up to age 12, their siblings and parents. 2004Our 2003 member consultation found that parents wanted social activity groups for their teenage children who often felt isolated and withdrew from society due to ridicule or bullying by their peers. We therefore introduced our fortnightly evening youth clubs for young people with Asperger Syndrome or high functioning autism aged 10 to 17 years. 2007We launched our Adult Services with an Adult Skills Project – a one day a week course teaching communication, social, employment and independence skills. 2008We set up our first Adult Social Group, providing social opportunities in the evening for adults with Asperger Syndrome. 2009Following the Autism Act 2009, the Government issued statutory guidance for local councils and NHS bodies to deliver services for adults with autism. As the only specialist autism provider in the county, Autism Bedfordshire was invited to be a key participant in developing the Fulfilling and Rewarding Lives Autism Strategies. We were commissioned to run an extensive Autism Awareness Training programme for professionals throughout Bedfordshire. 2010We began the first of many training sessions for parents, starting with a talk from Olga Bogdashina on Sensory Perceptual Issues in Autism. 2013We started to offer term-time sport and leisure activities for children and young people with autism, including swimming, golf and trampolining sessions. 2014We launched our ‘Progress into Education, Training and Employment’ programme designed for adults with high functioning autism or Asperger syndrome who are looking to enter the job market. We recognise that employment is just one part of becoming self-supporting and so we assess individuals’ needs on a broad basis which may mean we help them towards other goals such as living independently, travelling independently or socialising independently. 2015We expanded our adult social provision to include daytime groups for those individuals who were unable to access our evening sessions. 2016We introduced a programme of interest-led sessions to try and engage ‘hard to reach’ adults with autism. We worked with experts in the field to provide art, rowing and tennis sessions across Bedfordshire. We seek feedback from children, young people and adults with autism, as well as their parents, siblings, staff and volunteers through a variety of means, including annual written evaluation questionnaires. Unanimously, we are asked to continue with what we are providing and to increase our provision. Over the years, therefore, we have developed our services as follows: Summer Activity Programme - we now run 5 different week-long schemes at two locations in the county. L.O.A.F. – we run groups at 4 locations across the county. Wanted Fun - we run groups at 4 locations across the county. Adult Skills Project – in 2016-17 we ran 10 courses across the county. Adult Social Groups – we now have 5 social groups (daytime and evening) across the county. Employment Support - we provide flexible employment support packages for our members, ranging from group job clubs, structured one-to-one support, mediation with employers, interview practice and job searching. Autism Training for professionals – we have developed a range of quality, specialist training packages that cater for a variety of delegate needs and have to date trained over 2,000 professionals. Parent Training – we now run a programme of 6 week long courses each year plus occasional evening sessions to educate parents on various aspects of autism and how to best support their children. In 2016-17 we trained a total of 275 parents and carers. And we still continue to run our helpline service!