Week 1 - Resources for Autism
Arriving at the large house just off the Finchley road on a very cold Monday morning, I didn't really know what my first week with a charity had in store for me. I've never really been around anybody autistic before and because of that I will admit I was slightly nervous but also excited. I find the unknown exciting and the reason why I fell in love with this job is because it really is so varied and different that it has and will continually push my personal boundaries.
I walked into the small hallway that looked like the front room of somebody with 4 kids: boxes of toys and lovely posters and artwork everywhere. I met Liza, the director at Resources for Autism and she took me on a whirlwind tour of the house. They are very adamant that it be called a house because the feel of it needs to be homely. I was whisked upstairs to meet the team. I instantly got a sense of calm and contentment.
The morning flew by and then I was offered the opportunity to join my first group session at Resources house. I must admit I was quite nervous about this but I grabbed the bull by the horns and went into the session. It was amazing. I was with 6 adults and we did arts and crafts. I sat next to two women, Amber and Heather. Amber was very able and not too far along the spectrum; Heather however was slightly more severe. They both took a shine to me and Heather ended up being really chatty which was pretty unusual for her apparently.
That's the thing with Autism, there's a spectrum. Each person has a different level and severity of autism. Some, the least severe have Asperger's syndrome which only slightly mentally impairs them. Others, who are fully autistic, may even have challenges communicating and doing daily tasks.
Monday flew past so quickly and I ended up leaving at 9.30pm after an amazing training session ran by one of the staff members, Iris.
I woke Tuesday morning more relaxed but even more excited for the day. After getting into the office I realised it would be much more full on. Seats were full and all computers were on with people working full pace on them. The day was very much similar to Monday, joining group sessions and engaging with adults and teenagers with Autism whilst trying my hand at helping in the office. I think my good excel skills came into play when I helped Liza, the director with some admin issues, showing her how to do things more efficiently. I also did a little good deed and bought brownies for everybody in the office!
On Wednesday I had more of a chance to catch up with the team in the office and sat down with Iris, one of the paid workers at RFA to hear her own story. She passionately described a situation with a young boy and how Resources for Autism had gone in and helped not only him but also his family. That's the thing that I've learnt from Resources, they really do use every single resource they can to help families who are affected by Autism. Iris explained that a very wide range of situations affect many people who come to see them, and that many really do struggle on a day-to-day basis. One family had an issue with their son finding it difficult to bond with his younger sister. Resources for Autism managed to work out that his sensory needs were much higher than usual and because of this he needed tactile play to become stimulated. Resources for Autism introduced a playtime schedule with tactile blankets so that he could play with his sister. A small change that transformed the family’s life. Iris was kind enough to share her experience on camera, which you can watch below.
I then spent the rest of my day with fundraiser Danousia and director Liza, helping to streamline their social media pages and come up with some great ideas for raising some money. Instantly I was amazed that Resources for Autism had spent the time making an incredible animated video about one of their young Autistic children, Conor. The video features the young boy, narrated by his own mother and puts simply what it is like living with Autism. It's a very emotional and moving video and one I have to say you must watch. I also managed to help Resources for Autism look into a Google grant where they are currently undergoing approval status for funding for advertising. This can be found at Google's non-profit website. I wanted to ensure that Nicest Job left Resources for Autism with something, strategies and ideas in place that they can use in the future. Leaving a mark on the charity, which will continue to help after I've left
I then headed home ready to start my final day in Birmingham where Resources for Autism have a small office and a large coverage. There is a very high need for their service in Birmingham and as such they found the funds to open up a small office to help cater to those needs.
After meeting the staff, my first exposure was a meeting with a parent. A real-life account of somebody who, day in-day out, lives and breathes Autism. Her child suffers quite badly from sensory issues, which is apparently quite common. It's got to the point where he is so affected by noise that certain members of the family are unable to be around him for extended periods of time, because of this sensitivity to noise and voice. I sat for an hour in awe of this woman. We all have our issues but when you listen to somebody talking about how their whole life is sleep deprived and they are required to care for 24 hours, you have to take your hat off to them. It really makes you realise how easy your life is. Because what we could consider to be a bad day could be just a usual, if not good day for them.
I ended my week and day by meeting up in Birmingham city centre with a group of very able young teenagers suffering from Asperger's Syndrome. To look at these young adults you would probably not even think they had any type of disability. But what affect them most is their social anxieties and a struggle to understand and react to social situations. The team leader Ricky set them a challenge - to walk around Birmingham and go into as many shops as they could, blagging as much free stuff as they could. Now my initial reaction was of course sceptical but fair play to them, they did an amazing job! The two guys I was with started off very hesitant but after a good hour they were running the length of the Bullring asking shop owners and managers for anything they could get their hands on.
I also want to take my hat off to some of the stores. Boxes of chocolates from chocolatiers and body creams (full size!) from health shops. They ended up with 50 items in total after just 2 hours of going in and explaining who they were and what they were doing. The challenge was simple. Get them talking to strangers. Simply asking if they had anything they could get for free, such as a pen or a balloon. I was mesmerised and I also strangely felt like a very proud parent.
I've learnt so much this week. From not even encountering Autism to working and helping youngsters around Birmingham, my view and perception has totally changed.
It costs the charity £18 for just 1 hours care. That's a bottle of wine and a take away pizza for most of us. So if you feel like you want to help, your donation would be so greatly appreciated.
Next week see's me at the Charity Bag Books who provide multi-sensory books for people with profound learning disabilities.