Why we exist Why our services are needed 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 We have seen children who first came to us as confused, anxious and withdrawn individuals who, with support, encouragement and guidance, have blossomed into young people and adults who are more independent and confident to participate in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. How we were founded 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 (25 years ago!) 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 1,000 families and individuals with autism. To find out more about our history, click here.