As public funding shrinks Dagenham charity grows project pushing autism awareness
PUBLISHED: 12:00 03 January 2020
A Dagenham charity is set to expand its autism training to paying customers in 2020 as funding from the public sector shrinks.
The Sycamore Trust in Woodward Road runs awareness training so people know what to do and what not to do when they're interacting with autistic people - helping relieve some of the difficulties faced by people on the spectrum.
But now the charity plans to charge companies for the service. It said its programme has been "continuing professional development" certified, meaning professionals like lawyers, doctors and construction workers can take the course as part of their mandatory training quota.
"As the local authority funding we get is diminishing, we as an organisation need to be diversifying our income to support the young people and their families with autism," said Sycamore Trust CEO Chris Gillbanks.
"We're hoping to roll this programme out [across] London."
Autism is a "hidden disability". You can't tell an autistic person by sight, but it affects how they sense what's around them and how they understand other people, among other things.
One of the effects is sometimes an unusually high pain threshold. Ms Gillbanks said she's known autistic people to walk around with broken bones. That's one reason the training is particularly important in health care.
In industries where interacting with people is part and parcel of the job like retail or in any frontline service, knowing how to adjust to people living with autism can make the job much easier.
Citing NHS data, the National Autistic Society says there are 700,000 people in the UK with autism over the age of 18. Including their families, it means the condition affects around 2.8million people.
By putting autism more into the mainstream, the hope is people on the spectrum will be able to take part in society more - both receiving services better and contributing their skills.
"There are people with autism who have got great skills they can offer to employers," Ms Gillbanks said.
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"They will be getting employees who will stay with them and make an impact on their organisation."
The chief executive should know, with a third of her staff being on the autistic spectrum.
One of those is Robert Lamb. At 29, he's one of the two trainers on the programme.
The Sycamore Trust is hoping it will grow so it can train other autistic people to raise awareness. With people on the spectrum running the course themselves, they can tell people with authority what it's like to be autistic and how they can help.
The course is currently 90 minutes long. It's designed to be interactive, giving people an experience as close to being autistic as possible.
One exercise is called the "shouting task". People get as close as possible to an individual in the middle of a room and shout about what they did that weekend.
The result is an overwhelming and alarming bombardment of information and noise. Health Secretary Matt Hancock experienced it at a visit to the charity in April 2019.
"It's to get an understanding of what it's like to live in our world, what they can do to support us and not to be afraid to make mistakes when then support us," said Mr Lamb.
He said the biggest thing to remember is that autistic people can take longer to process instructions, adding people need to give them at least six seconds. They also have more sensitivity to what's around them. Things like loud alarms can be distressing.
The final tip from Mr Lamb was that metaphor may be taken literally, so saying "give me a second" might not be the most useful expression.
Even when someone is learning about autism for their job, it makes them one more person who's on the street that can accommodate people on-spectrum a little better.
"There's a lot of myths around autism and we want to dispel that," said Ms Gillbanks.
"It's about working on the negatives and promoting the positives."