Birmingham care service user organises autism awareness event

£2,500 raised by user at Cygnet Elms service centre.

A service user at Cygnet Elms, a high dependency care service for women, has shared her experience of autism and urged for greater awareness and acceptance of autistic individuals in the community.

To mark Autism Awareness Month in April and World Autism Awareness Day on April 2nd, Florence Grant (20) organised a one-day event at the residential unit in Birmingham to speak about the disability and to raise money for the National Autistic Society. The event, which included a craft and bake sale and a raffle raised £2,614.84.

Speaking to staff and other service users at the Streetly Road unit, Florence said: “There is a lot of misunderstanding about autism and many people don’t understand what it really is and just know the stereotype.”

She added: “People tend to think that all autistic people are the same when everyone is actually different. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses.”

Afterwards, Florence said: “I was very pleased to be able to deliver the presentation and raise awareness of autism, talking from my own experience.”

“My autism is a part of me and it is not something that can be separated from me. The world needs to stop punishing difference and start embracing it.”

During the event, service users wore tie-dyed t-shirts they had created and money was raised from the sale of handmade artwork, blankets, crocheted teddies and handmade masks. Other activities included a karaoke session, pet therapy and raffle. Both service users and staff enjoyed a visit from the rabbit and many other furry creatures and reptiles, bringing a smile to everyone’s faces.

Prior to the event, Florence and her family also contacted a number of local companies to ask for donations for the raffle. Thanks to their considerable effort, more than sixty prizes, including a bungee jump voucher and an electronic tablet, were donated.

Riccardo Brade, Occupational Therapy Assistant, who helped Florence plan the event, said: “It was very well received, particularly by services users who didn’t have much understanding about autism. After the presentation, they all came up to Flo to say they really enjoyed it. Other service users are knocking on my office door asking if there could be different presentations on different topics, and it is great to see Flo has inspired others.”

“I’m really proud of Flo as the idea came from her because she wanted to tell people her story and express how autism affects her. When we first started working on it, we expected to raise around £500, but she did such an amazing job. I would like to say a big thank you to Flo, all the service users, and staff for their hard work and making it a great success.”

“Because we have had such a good response from this event, we would like to continue working with the National Autistic Society to get further education and training to help understand autism more.”

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, is a disability characterised by challenges with social situations, repetitive behaviours, sensory differences and difficulties with speech and nonverbal communication. Although autism affects people in different ways, autistic people often find communication and interaction with non-autistic people difficult, and find things like bright lights or loud noises overwhelming. Autistic people need support from an early age to achieve their full potential and improve their ability to participate independently in society.

Cygnet Elms offers a high dependency care service for ten women with learning disabilities and other associated complex needs. The service is rated ‘Outstanding’ by the national independent regulator, Care Quality Commission.