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'Improve youth club access for autistic children' says Muswell Hill charity

PUBLISHED: 13:06 17 April 2019

Ambitious About Autism's youth patrons. Picture: Phil Ashley

Ambitious About Autism's youth patrons. Picture: Phil Ashley

phil@philashley.com

Going to an after-school club can be a traumatic affair if you are autistic.

Ambitious About Autism's youth patrons coming up with ideas to improve youth club access. Picture: Ambitious About AutismAmbitious About Autism's youth patrons coming up with ideas to improve youth club access. Picture: Ambitious About Autism

A lack of understanding of how to make spaces accessible to young people with different needs – or a lack of willingness to change – means trying to join a club can involve “being uncomfortable, or even being turned away”.

But Muswell Hill charity Ambitious About Autism, with the input of its advisory board made up of autistic teenagers, has now released a “toolkit” of resources designed to make adapting easier for clubs so that autistic spectrum conditions are no longer a barrier to participation.

The charity's participation and policy assistant Sarah O'Brien-Quilty – who is herself autistic – told the Ham&High: “The idea came from conversations with our board of autistic young people about their experiences of being excluded. It can happen quite often.”

She explained that often parents of autistic children are unwilling to tell youth clubs in advance of their kids' needs due to the stigma and likelihood of being turned away.

The new guidelines include ways of making the environment more comfortable for autistic children – for example by dimming lights – and encouraging children to try-out clubs before signing up.

The charity, headquartered at the Pears National Centre for Autism in Woodside Avenue, wants youth groups to prioritise clear communication and offer quiet rooms.

Sarah added: “In the toolkit there are also resources for youth groups to fill out so they can consider the specific needs of each autistic child.”

Georgia Ellin, 20, one of the autistic young people who came up with the guidelines, said: “We wanted to create this resource because many of us have personally experienced exclusion from youth groups, being told they 'couldn't deal with us'.

“Our aim is to show that it's actually very easy to include autistic people.”

Jolanta Lasota, the charity's chief exec, said: “This resource will increase understanding and acceptance of autism and ensure autistic young people have opportunities.”

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