In preparation for World Autism Awareness Day on 2nd April, we spoke to Luke Aylward from Leeds Autism AIM Project about their support for autistic adults in Leeds.
Leeds Autism AIM is a service for autistic adults in Leeds with little or no funded support. Under its banner, we have set up two weekly drop-in services, found mentors for a number of people in need of guidance and provided a number of information resources.
The service was founded by Advonet with help from a number of autistic volunteers, some of whom went on to become staff. Since being set up in November 2014, over 400 different people across the city have been helped by the service.
Among the people we have helped so far are autistic adults who have had no-one else to turn to and carers of autistic adults who’ve needed someone to talk to about their issues.
“It felt as if I was drowning and that someone threw me a life belt”, said one person who was given a mentoring match.
We now have additional funding to develop and maintain the entire service from Leeds North CCG and to develop volunteer provision from the Health and Social Care Volunteer Fund.
In January 2015, we opened up the Lovell Park Autism Hub with support from Leeds City Council. This service is for autistic adults and their carers city-wide and provides many kinds of support. We have a weekly session hosted by the Chapeltown Citizens Advice Bureau, a fortnightly three-hour drop-in from the DWP offering employment support and fortnightly relaxation sessions.
On top of that, Lovell also hosts a monthly carers’ meeting and a monthly employment peer support group for autistic adults who are either seeking work or currently in paid employment. There’s also a monthly slot for speakers.
Vale Circles Autism Hub was opened in Vale Circles, Beeston, earlier this month. It already offers weekly information and signposting, advocacy support and advice from the CAB. There are also plans for new regular activity for autistic people aged 16-25, run in conjunction with People Matters.
This hub is open to autistic adults living in the South and East Leeds areas. It was partly-funded by the Leeds South and East CCG, catering for people living in some of the most deprived areas of the city.
Mentoring and information
Since the project got off the ground, a big part of it has come in the form of mentoring. Taking on eager volunteers, many of whom are autistic themselves, we have matched autistic people in need of someone to help them kick on in life with an appropriate mentor.
We are currently in the process of training more mentors to offer their support to those who are in need of someone to help achieve their life goals.
“It’s given hope from a point of total despair”, said a carer of an autistic adult.
On the information side, we currently run the Autism Leeds directory a website which lists all the city’s autism services and info around the Leeds Autism Strategy, funded by the Brelms Trust. It also has information specifically for carers/parents, as well as on subjects like employment and mental health. Regular news items are posted on there too.
Other information put out by Leeds Autism AIM includes a bi-monthly newsletter, maps for how to get to both hubs, leaflets and signposting towards relevant services in person, over the phone and online. We’re on social media as well.
What I’ve got out of it
As an autistic adult, I’ve been with Leeds Autism AIM since the start, volunteering with the information side of things. Since coming on board, I’ve maintained the Autism Leeds site and produced all manner of accessible information, as well as volunteering my time at both hubs. At Lovell Park, I run the monthly employment peer support group.
Getting involved has been good for my mental health, as I’ve spent time away from a job I had no love for, becoming less stressed as a result. It also allowed me to broaden my skillset and become better at talking to people, so much so in fact that I’m now in the process of becoming a mentor and taken on a paid role on providing information.
You can find Leeds Autism AIM at the World Autism Awareness Day event on Friday 1st April at Leeds Civic Hall.
More information about the event is on this post on the Autism Leeds site.