Autism Bedfordshire’s services help break down the barriers to social participation for autistic people and their families by providing places where they can go and feel comfortable, accepted and not judged by society. With the encouragement and support of specialist trained staff we help autistic people build their confidence, self-esteem, and social skills through taking part in social activities and mixing with other people. Furthermore, we help them to develop practical skills and independence which will improve their prospects in life and help them be part of the community. Our aspirations are for them to have the same opportunities as people who are not on the spectrum, so that they can enjoy fulfilled and rewarding lives.
The physical and emotional stress of looking after an autistic child or adult is a huge strain on the parents and we want them to feel that they are not alone in their struggles. They can come to us for practical advice, information and emotional support so that they will be better equipped to cope with and care for their autistic children and any other siblings. We provide opportunities for them to have a guilt-free break from their caring responsibilities, safe in the knowledge their autistic child is being well looked after by staff who understand the challenges that autism can present.
Finally, we raise awareness of autism in the community in order to reduce misunderstanding about the condition. Through training and informative talks we educate schools, local businesses and community groups about the sort of behaviours that an autistic person may display and how best to respond to and be supportive of them. With our increasing presence at community events, members of the public can also become more knowledgeable about and accepting of autism. In this way we hope that autistic people will find it easier to engage with and integrate into mainstream society.
Autism Bedfordshire is the only voluntary organisation in the county that is specialised in supporting autistic adults and children. We are also there to support their families who become emotionally battered by the whole experience of supporting their child, fighting for the right services and trying to provide a normal home for the siblings. The need for our services increases due to cuts in spending across the NHS and Social Services. Local Councils are being forced to make significant changes resulting in many people who are on the autistic spectrum being left without the services they need, and rely upon.
Community amenities are often too busy and over-stimulating and the staff are not equipped to understand and support the specific needs of autistic people and young people and so there are limited places they can go to. They are therefore excluded from social, educational and life experiences that others take for granted. Often bullied, their confidence and self-esteem deteriorate and many develop depression and other mental health problems. They need places where they can be themselves and enjoy activities that are designed and run by people who understand their complex needs and anxieties and can support them if they become distressed. They need opportunities to build their confidence and learn skills that will help them cope with and integrate into society. Their parents feel isolated, depressed, emotionally and physically exhausted from looking after their autistic children and fighting for support. They desperately need to have a break and to learn strategies to cope with and support their autistic children. Siblings, often carers too, miss out on ‘normal life’ and need the chance to enjoy activities alongside or away from their autistic brother or sister.
Children can attend our groups over a number of years, so small improvements can be tracked and we have seen how these have led to significant improvements in their ability to function in the ‘real’ world. We have seen children who first came to us as confused, anxious and withdrawn individuals who, with support, encouragement and guidance, have blossomed into young people and adults who are more independent and confident to participate in and contribute to society.
Autism Bedfordshire was founded in 1991 by a group of parents who answered a local newspaper advert from a parent of an autistic child seeking other parents to share thoughts and strategies with. They knew that their children shared the same hopes, aspirations and worries as other children: having friends, being around people who understand and accept them and not think of them as ‘silly’ or ‘weird’, doing well at school, ultimately getting a job and living independently and being happy and fulfilled. They set the foundations for a charity that would grow to provide a range of places where autistic children could ‘be themselves’ and access activities designed and run by people who understand autism and can support them if they become anxious.
In 1994 they formed a charity, the Bedfordshire Society Working with Autism, which began to provide services for children and their parents, starting with a summer play scheme in 1995. Since then, the charity (renamed as Autism Bedfordshire) has grown to supporting over 2,500 families and autistic individuals.
To find out more about our history, click here.
Autism Bedfordshire is a charitable company limited by guarantee. It was registered as a charity on 14th November 2003 and incorporated on 9th January 2004 at Companies House, Crown Way, Cardiff, CF14 3UZ.
Registration no: 04632497
Registered office and operation address: Suite B1, 1 Hammond Road, Elms Farm, Bedford, Bedfordshire MK41 0UD.
The company was established under a Memorandum of Association, which established the objects and powers of the charitable company and is governed under its Articles of Association. Under those articles, the members of the Management Committee are elected at the A.G.M. to serve a period of 3 years, subject to ratification at each A.G.M. which is usually held in October each year – see the last set of published minutes here.
The Members of the Management Committee are Trustees of the Charitable Company and also Directors for the purposes of Company Law.
This Board of Trustees is strongly involved in setting our overall direction and vision, and the trustees understand how the charity operates and what its opportunities and challenges are. Monthly board meetings are well attended and our vision, mission and objectives are regularly reviewed. You can see who our trustees are here.
To view our 2020-21 Annual Report and Accounts, please click here.
You can also find us on the Charity Commission website for England and Wales.
Autism Bedfordshire operates under a number of policies and procedures which can be read below:
Health, Safety and Welfare Policy
Child Protection Policy
Safeguarding Vulnerable Adults Policy and Procedure
Data Protection Policy
Equal Opportunities and Diversity Policy
Compliments, Comments and Complaints Policy
Whistle Blowing Policy
The cost of providing our services is over £600,000 per year. All our services and activities are funded by grant-making trusts, local authority funding, corporate donations, individual donations, proceeds from fundraising events, and membership and service payments.
In this climate of ever-decreasing funds and ever-increasing competition for them, fundraising and donations from our members and the general public really does make a difference. We would be delighted if you would like to fundraise for our charity and help us continue to provide our vital services to improve the lives of those living with autism.
We are happy to offer help and advice, and we can supply collection tins, leaflets, posters, sponsor forms and publicity. For further information and ideas on how to fundraise, please click here. If you need help with your event or activity please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
However you choose to support us, thank you!
Autism Bedfordshire has acted as the Lead Body for the Luton Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) Short Breaks Consortium since 2013.
The Consortium’s services provide significant short breaks support in Luton for disabled children and young people and their families.
Last year (2021/22), through its short breaks services, Consortium members supported 354 children and young people in Luton (aged 0-25) organised 757 short break sessions, and provided 28,571 short break hours.
This year the Consortium has 6 member organisations.
The Consortium is funded by BLCF and Luton Rising.
Autism can mean many things to many people. There are a number of terms that different people and groups prefer to use, including; autistic spectrum disorder, autistic spectrum condition, autistic spectrum difference, has autism, is autistic and neurodiversity.
We have a person approach to communicating with individuals and will ask and follow your preferences. Autism Bedfordshire use ‘autistic’ in our published communications and materials as an umbrella term for all such terms, including Asperger’s syndrome. This is in line with the terminology adopted by the National Autistic Society.
The National Autistic Society: What words do people prefer to use to describe people on the autism spectrum? ‘Autistic’?, ‘with autism’?, ‘has autism’? The language we use is important because it embodies and can therefore help change attitudes towards autism.
A piece of research published in the Autism journal in 2015 looked at the preferences of people on the autism spectrum, their families, friends and professionals around the language used to describe autism. The research was conducted by The National Autistic Society (NAS), the Royal College of GPs and the UCL Institute of Education. The findings confirmed that there is no single term that everyone prefers. However, they suggest a shift towards more positive and assertive language, particularly among autistic communities where autism is seen as integral to the person.
Survey responses from 3,470 people were analysed, including 502 autistic adults, 2,207 parents of children and adults on the autism spectrum, 1,109 professionals, and 380 extended family members and friends.The research found that all groups like the terms ‘on the autism spectrum’ and ‘Asperger syndrome’. Autistic adults like the identity-first terms ‘autistic’ and ‘Aspie’, whereas families didn’t like ‘Aspie’. Professionals also like the term ‘autism spectrum disorder (ASD)’. Some terms were strongly disliked or no longer used, particularly ‘low functioning’, ‘Kanner’s autism’ and ‘classic autism’. The language we use is important because it embodies and can therefore help change attitudes towards autism. To reflect the findings of this research, the NAS has begun to gradually increase the use of the term ‘autistic’ – particularly when talking about and to adults in that group. We will also use ‘on the autism spectrum’ as the default way of describing people on the autism spectrum.
The research shows that language preferences are evolving, and we will continue to research and test how different groups prefer to speak about autism. The debate around the way we describe autism in the public domain is different to the terms used to diagnose autism by medical professionals. Find out more about diagnostic terms and criteria.
Today Autism Bedfordshire employs 43 office staff and over 150 staff and volunteers to deliver our services to autistic children, young people and adults.
For our Children’s Services, we have dedicated teams of Support Workers and Volunteers supporting the children. These teams are led by a Senior Team Leader and up to 3 Team Leaders. The Team Leaders should have at least NVQ Level 3 in Child Care, or equivalent education and social care qualifications. The Support Workers have to have at least NVQ Level 2 plus appropriate experience.
Autism Bedfordshire is very lucky to have six fantastic trustees who all bring with them a wealth of knowledge, experience and expertise. Two of our trustees have an autistic son or daughter.
Ms Lauraine Montgomery, Chair – provides leadership and direction to the board and enables its members to fulfil their responsibilities for the overall governance and strategic direction of the charity; ensures that the charity pursues its objects as defined in its governing document, charity law, company law and other relevant legislation/regulations; works in partnership with the CEO and supports the employees, helping them achieve the aims of the organisation and to optimise the relationship between the board the staff; facilitates the board of trustees in stimulating excellent, well-rounded and carefully considered strategic decision-making.
Mr Peter Scott, Secretary – provides administrative support to the board; works in partnership with the CEO and supports the charity’s employees; has responsibility for ensuring formal records of meetings are kept; works closely with the CEO and Chair to ensure strong governance and oversight and communication with charity members, the board and Charity Commission).
Mr Jeff Bulled, Finance Director – monitors the financial standing of the charity; oversees the charity’s financial risk management process; reports to the board and CEO on the charity’s financial health; acts as counter signatory on cheques and funding applications; ensures annual accounts are submitted as required; liaises with external auditors and ensures finances are responsibly managed/invested for the betterment of the organisation’s work and for the charity’s beneficiaries.
Mr Philip Delafield – with a background in Human Resources consulting including the retail and care sectors, provides advice and guidance on employment matters, health and safety and premises management, as well as contributing to AB’s policies, strategies and activities.
Mrs Pamela Wrest – independent practitioner/trainer with over 25 years experience in the health & social sector, supporting children and vulnerable adults. With a good knowledge of Health & Social Care Legislation, Autism & Alternative Augmentative Communication (AAC) methods.
Mrs Pat Guy – ISI Inspector specialising in SEN, specialist member on SENDIST tribunals, author, trainer, speaker and consultant.
If you are interested in becoming a trustee or a patron, and would like to know more, contact our office.
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:
And we still continue to run our helpline service!