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Autism friendly communities are places we should all want to live

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Education and training, Events, Knowledge and skills, Society

I have often spoken of the value of strong communities and the role of social workers within them. Community is about supporting each other, without prejudice, to get the most out of life. This human rights, citizenship and inclusive approach must extend to those living with autism, Asperger’s and other cognitive conditions.

autism bannerIt’s a philosophy I’m delighted to see being expressed in Liverpool today, a city of which I am very fond for personal as well as professional reasons, as a whole host of local businesses and charities, in tandem with the council and other public sector bodies, announce their intention to make Liverpool the country’s first ‘autism friendly city’. As a regular visitor to Liverpool, I have always been struck with Liverpudlians’ strong sense of identity and pride in their city and community.

autism-together-colour-web-smallAccording to leading partners Autism Together and Autism Adventures, an autism-friendly city should be one where those with the condition are able to: “travel on public transport, shop for food and clothes, take part in sports and leisure activities, visit cultural institutions, tourist attractions, eat in restaurants and be supported appropriately by healthcare and emergency services.” It’s a simple manifesto we can all sign up to but the challenge will be making it ubiquitous for all.

We’ve already seen this approach applied to dementia of course. The Alzheimer’s Society led Dementia Friendly Communities and Dementia Friends campaigns have been a marked success, as local businesses, health and care services and communities become more sensitive and responsive to people living with dementia, helping them to live well.

LAA_LogoAs part of their bid for autism friendly status, Liverpool City Council and partners are encouraging local businesses and services to earn the title of Autism Champions. To do this, an organisation must make a public commitment to train their staff in autism awareness. This includes techniques to recognise signs of autism and how best to handle challenging behaviour. Champions are also taught about the different ways people with autism can choose to communicate. For example, those who find verbal communication difficult may find voice apps on iPads or other devices an easier way to make their thoughts known.

I find this kind of concerted community outreach very exciting and, as someone with a close family member with Asperger’s, I know the best kind of support for those on the autistic spectrum is to normalise their experience – a big element of which is providing the same access to local services and facilities as anyone else. Just as important though is the nature of their interactions with the people providing those services. Good customer care, like good social work practice, is about treating everyone with respect: listening to and understanding their needs, concerns and what matters to them.

It’s an approach I’ve long championed in social work and one which I sought to embed further with a series of manuals published last year, two of which provide guidance on how to work with people with autism. Furthermore, my Knowledge and Skills Statement (KSS) sets out what newly qualified social workers need to know and do to best serve the interests of individuals and families, including those with autism.

NAS-LogoThe manuals address the practical but often complex issues we need to address in our practice with adults. As awareness grows within society, so our interactions with people on the spectrum can only increase. I commend the National Autistic Society’s Too Much Information (TMI) campaign which seeks to raise awareness of the problems autistic people have when the information they are processing becomes too much. We must all learn to respond with kindness rather than judgement as the charity’s new film brilliantly demonstrates.

As social workers, it is our privilege to make a positive impact in helping to promote the independence of others. Liverpool’s enlightened approach to the health and wellbeing of all its citizens echoes the values of our own profession and I look forward to finding out more on my next visit to this wonderful city.

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  1. Comment by Warren Woodhouse posted on

    I have Autism and ADHD and everyday presents a challenge. I don't really like going outside in Newcastle - upon - Tyne as much for many reasons. Public transport is hard to understand, socially talking with someone is sometimes hard as I don't know when the best time to interrupt someone is, counting money is always my personal challenge and shopping is hard.

    Don't get me wrong, I love going outside and meeting new people and interacting with the world. I go horse riding, I take photos, I make artwork, I read books (currently reading: Dan Brown's Digital Fortress), I enjoy films, playing video games (currently: The Elder Scrolls V: SKYRIM), visiting museums and art galleries and doing other rewarding activities.

    My dad said that my Autism is an obstacle that I myself have to overcome. I respect his opinion and it has helped shaped me into the 26 year old Autistic man that I am.

    You are right though, every city needs to do this, not just here in the UK - the whole world needs to understand Autism better.

    I have received the 2003 Winner of the SSAFA Young Achiever Award (for helping someone else who has Autism - taught him to make friends and to socialise and I observed him from a distance), I have received the 2011 North East Autism Society Award for completing the 200ft Abseil from the top of The Vermont Hotel on World Autism Awareness Day. I'm proud to have received these awards and hopefully, many more to come.

    Anyways, I look forward to reading your reply soon.

    • Replies to Warren Woodhouse>

      Comment by Andrew Morton posted on

      Hi, i am Andrew, i have autism AD HD OCD. I live sheffield, i would live to live in country r near the sea. I live with my brother at the min. I like to live with a sherd lives famliy. Cant realy cope on my own. My brother is not in good health to look after me.

      • Replies to Andrew Morton>

        Comment by Mark Osterloh posted on

        Hi Andrew
        Thank you very much for getting in touch. Lyn has read your comment and someone in your area will be in touch with you soon to see how they can help.
        Best wishes
        Blog editor

  2. Comment by Nicholas Ham posted on

    Now this makes me want to move there! I for one have asperger's syndrome and have always loved Liverpool and have never found anywhere more friendlier and welcoming than here. I feel safer getting around with strong transport links in regards to road and rail. Driving there feels safer to me than where I am living now.

    Although I was born and raised in Cornwall I've never felt happy here and have been eager to get away from here. Although it's a nice place to visit and live it's never been like that for me.

    I currently find it stressful and lonesome with only my parents by my side. Apart from that it's harder than elsewhere for someone like myself with asperger's to find work here. Most of it is in the tourism, rural and care sectors of work. House prices are just as high here as London with less starter homes and more retirement homes being built Cornwall in my view being more of a seasonal place and a retirement region now.

    Hearing this does make me want to go there and start off fresh and find suitable employment in areas that I'm eager to work in and happen to be experienced in. Of course with it being an autism friendly city just makes it even better. I would love to live somewhere like Liverpool and have a sustainable career and have some form of help and support which I desperately seek but can't get here.

    I hope to read what else you have to say and thank you so much for enlightening my day.

  3. Comment by Kaylee posted on

    Hello hope you are all doing well .me myself does not have a diagnosis I struggle but I have to try my tow boys 5 and 2 and my girl 7 are asd not yo sure if other things yet their non verbal my daughter talks but finds very hard. We live in Hastings but not to grate alot of judgment and not nice remarks when my son screams of happiness witch is the most precious thing they comment so sad .but reading your views has made me want to go and visit Liverpool. Can I say one thing allways be your self don't ever let people make you fill like you don't belong your amazing be strong .x


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