The past 18 months have been a challenging time for most people, with lockdown after lockdown forcing us to change our routines and adapt to ‘the new normal’.
This period has also been challenging for the autistic community, as has been highlighted by research carried out by the National Autistic Society.
The study found that nine in ten autistic people worried about their mental health during lockdown, while 85% said their anxiety had worsened.
What is Autism?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a life-long condition which can affect people in different ways.
The brain of an autistic person works differently to that of a neurotypical person (someone without autism), which can lead to people with autism experiencing difficulties socialising and communicating with other people.
Autistic people can often have intense and highly-focused interests and hobbies.
There are around 700,000 people in the UK who have autism.
Autism is not an illness or a disease.
Research carried out by the National Autistic Society found that only 16% of autistic adults in the UK are in full-time employment, while only 20% have a CV.
They also found 90% of autistic people reported having anxiety and depression and are also dealing with social isolation.
It also found that people with autism were seven times more likely to feel chronically lonely than the general population and six times more likely to have low levels of life satisfaction.
The impact of the pandemic has also been felt by the families of those with autism, according to the research.
One in five family members who responded to the survey had to reduce their work due to caring duties, while seven in ten parents said their child had struggled academically during the pandemic.
However, an autism community hub in Caerphilly town centre is looking to address these issues.
The Autism Directory opened its new hub on Market Street in September last year, but now coronavirus restrictions have eased, it’s hoping to reach out to more people.
Where is the hub?
The Autism Directory community hub is located on 4A Market Street, Caerphilly.
Recently rebranded as ‘Autistic Minds’, the charity held an open day on August 27 to showcase what it has to offer.
As well as support groups and advice sessions for autistic people and their families, the hub offers support with job applications, social skills and more.
The charity also offers employment opportunities within its ranks for autistic people, with 60% of its staff having autism.
During the pandemic, much of what the hub has offered has been done remotely, but now restrictions have eased, it’s moving to a more hybrid approach.
Nadine Honeybone, who set up the charity in 2010 after struggling to find information or support for her autistic son, told Caerphilly Observer: “We’re hoping for more regular informative talks and more open days.”
Ms Honeybone first started the charity as a directory to point autistic people and their families in the right direction for help and support, but has grown rapidly over the years.
She said: “We’ve grown to be so much more than just a directory. 60% of our staff have autism so everything we do it from their lived experiences.
“We just want to help autistic adults live as independent a life as possible.
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“The Caerphilly hub will be the first of many. We’re looking at Rhondda Cynon Taf or Merthyr Tydfil next.”
The hub was opened thanks to support from Caerphilly Comic Con, which was held at St Cenydd Leisure Centre in 2019, as well as from money raised by Caerphilly town mayor Mike Prew in 2018/19, where he chose the Autism Directory as one of his two chosen charities.
The charity is still one of Cllr Prew’s chosen charities, alongside Sense Cymru, which has a day care centre on Caerphilly Business Park.
Caerphilly County Borough Council’s Deputy Leader, Cllr Jamie Pritchard, also attended the open day and said: “Events like this help to spread awareness about Autism services. It was a pleasure to attend and speak to people who came along.”
Himalee Rupesinghe, who works at the hub, said: “We have a suggestions box at the hub and people can also get in touch with suggestions on things they’d like to see us do here.
“People can contact us through email on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 02920 108921.”
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