Working for an autism charity
I have worked for a small autism charity, Action for Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), for over three years now. I originally started working at the charity as a volunteer; this was a placement I organised for myself upon listening to advice from lecturers about the importance of relevant experience in the area of psychology. Approximately a year after this advice, I applied for and was offered a job as a support worker.
Action for ASD is a charity and autism resource centre based in Burnley which provides services for anyone affected by autism; this includes children of all ages, families of individuals with autism and adults struggling to find support or make friends. One of the best things about the charity is that there is some type of service on offer for everyone; some of the services on offer are play sessions for children, training courses for parents and carers and adult sessions which encourage social interaction between adults with ASD. As well as this, regular trips are organised such as outdoor activities, residential trips and the annual Autism Show.
My role mainly consists of maintaining a safe and positive environment for members whilst setting up and running activities on sessions on a fully equipped play area with a soft play area, games room, bouncy castle, sensory zone and more. Although this may seem easy enough to others, it is a lot more difficult than one would expect!
On each session we have a group of children with ASD, which means we have children with different needs and complex sensory issues. If one child is having a meltdown during session, this can have a negative effect on other children who may be sensitive to loud sounds. Therefore, team work and communication are extremely important so that the staff can support each other in helping an individual in meltdown but also reducing the effect of the meltdown on others.
The criteria for diagnosis of ASD are impairment of social communication, interaction and restricted repetitive behaviour. Having individuals with these difficulties play and interact together can often lead to misunderstandings, meltdowns and individuals clashing. With each day comes different challenges but every new day is also an opportunity to learn about autism, as well as which behaviour management and de-escalation techniques work for each child.
Funding is one of the biggest issues that the charity faces; every few months a review is required to examine whether the charity has enough funds to continue to offer the services as normal. In the past, a lack of funding has meant that we have had to start charging parents for the sessions they want to make use of in order to keep the sessions going; more recently due to budget cuts Lancashire County Council has had to reduce the amount of funding we receive, meaning we are only funded by them through the school holidays.
However, the staff members at Action for ASD are not giving up and we are raising as much money as we can by holding events, raffles and also doing a sponsored walk up Pendle Hill. We are also looking at alternatives to using the funding we receive; for example we have recently set up a new music and art room, as music in particular is a popular interest amongst members. We decided to raise awareness of the funding issues and the public have kindly donated many musical instruments and arts and crafts items, allowing us to offer more activities to members during sessions.
The charity has had a big effect on me personally too, as it inspired me to complete my final year dissertation at the University of Central Lancashire titled ‘Predictors of parental stress experienced by parents of children with an ASD'. My role here has meant that I am fully trained on autism and related issues such as sensory issues, first aid, epilepsy awareness and more. This has helped me to continue supporting students with ASD in educational settings and I am currently working with Special Educational Needs students at Bradley Nursery School, Nelson.
Whilst I have changed jobs a few times throughout university and also since graduating, I have always worked at the charity during evenings and weekends as I am proud to be part of a team that makes such a positive difference for families; I am regularly told by parents that they do not know what they would do without the support and services on offer at the charity, which demonstrates to me that I made the right decision.
I can confidently say that without Action for ASD I would not be in the position I am today. It has without a doubt helped me to decide on the career I want and I hope to support individuals with ASD, along with the charity, for a very long time.
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