As i mentioned on our Facebook page, i visited the Autism show in Birmingham last week. I was both pleasantly surprised and frustrated by the event.
Truth be told, I’ve never personly liked autism shows or any kind of gatherings where professionals go to discuss subjects like mental health, if i was writing this 5-6 years ago, from experience attending events on behalf of another charity, its always been a sorry affair, smell of stale tea in the air, an almost empty hall with exhibits that are full of leaflets for care homes with bored vendors who seem incapable of expanding on whats on the poster, with the occasional screaming child or over zealous professional with hordes of leaflets in hemp bags, all for an entry fee of at least £20+ per person. Although i dont wish to offend anyone if this was something you attended or took part in a few years ago, from both a professional point of view and someone wth ASD and mental health, it really felt a waste of time coming away quite fustrated as i was expecting better.
So what changed my mind this time round, well in recent years I’ve seen photos of great events with open discussion tables, exhibits with demos, sensory toys, charities offering services with knowledgeable attendees, room demos and bloggers offering insight to the public about ASD etc..
Although the hemp bags are still strutting there stuff brimming with leaflets and free pens, and the NAS are now at the front of the event, it looked like a show worthy of its name. I needed to see for myself in the hopes things had changed..
Given i will be launching AMHA officially very soon, i needed to find some encouragement after the many setbacks and delays with the project. I needed to see for myself what organisations were offering and network a little bit.
So what did i find? I was reasonably surprised by what was on offer, there was the usual NAS stand with all their resources, posters, leaflets and volunteers on hand, along with the usual care home exhibits, but i also found lots of organisations, groups and businesses with great products, offering help and support, intervention services and sensory equipment that are STARTING to tackle some of the biggest challenges of ASD.
I was especially pleased to see the new sensory demo rooms, a tough furniture display and some of the latest developments in soft play, an introduction to lego therapy (not such a new concept) and lots of stands with sensory equipment / toys which i had an interest in personally, as many parents may have noticed, trying to buy a weighted blanket can be a nightmare if you don’t know where to look.
One of the main reasons i attended was to get a better picture of what support was out there for adults, and those with comorbid conditions with autism, i had hoped to find like minded organisations or charities, but to put it simply, could i find anyone... eh no. Aside from bagging one of the NAS booklets about Autism Mental Health, I quickly discovered just how many don’t even realise mental health and autism can be two peas in a pod with additional comorbid physical conditions like Fragile X, Erlos Danlos Syndrome or Hyper Mobility etc... At one point i had to explain what comorbid meant which i found quite surprising given the person was representing a well know charity (I wont name and shame) supporting those on the spectrum.
A hot topic for me at the moment is the age cap, most services are capped at 16, with some stretching to 25, although in part to lack of funding and specialists for adults, I was very, very disappointed to find all service and charities at the show also had an age limit of 25. Its a very big issues i have with our current services, there have been alot of enthuses on early intervention (which i agree with). All the Funding and resources are being pumped into those under 16. But what happens when they grow up! The services on offer for adults on the spectrum are so limited, its a joke. Ive seen so many end up at complex needs or a mental health centre as there is nothing for Autism, never mind autism and mental health.
So what did i learn?
Dispite a few strange conversations with vendors which i wont get into, and a surprise visit from holby city's autistic star Julius Robertson, I came away feeling quite positive as i know AMHA is going to plug a big hole if done correctly. There is a definite need for Autism Mental Health Awareness, but we need to ensure its backed up with real stories from real people struggling with the actual condition, not just A-typical (normal) people, telling us how to suck eggs. We need to educate the public in the right way, and find resources to provide the right services, support groups and offer help and support to back it up from the moment your born to the day you die, not just early years or upto 25.
I don’t know if AMHA can do all this, but i will try my best to make things easier for the next generation and put in place resources to make things easier.
Thanks For Reading, Keep a look out as im busy building new resources for our A-Z and Amazon Store for sensory toys and equipment. Things are moving quickly now so please check again soon.