Autism 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.

In response to the stress and exhaustion parents reported during the summer holidays, we introduced our first Summer Activity Scheme to provide activities for autistic children and give their parents a much-needed break.

Our 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.

Our 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 high functioning autistic children aged 10 to 17 years.

We launched our Adult Services with an Adult Skills Project – a one day a week course teaching communication, social, employment and independence skills.

We set up our first Adult Social Group, providing social opportunities in the evening for adults with Asperger Syndrome.

Following the Autism Act 2009, the Government issued statutory guidance for local councils and NHS bodies to deliver services for autistic adults. 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.

We began the first of many training sessions for parents, starting with a talk from Olga Bogdashina on Sensory Perceptual Issues in Autism.

We started to offer term-time sport and leisure activities for autistic people and young people, including swimming, golf and trampolining sessions.

We launched our ‘Progress into Education, Training and Employment’ programme designed for high functioning autistic adults 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.

We expanded our adult social provision to include daytime groups for those individuals who were unable to access our evening sessions.

We introduced a programme of interest-led sessions to try and engage ‘hard to reach’ autistic adults.  We worked with experts in the field to provide art, rowing and tennis sessions across Bedfordshire.

We seek feedback from autistic children, young people and adults, 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!