‘We need to change the way society views us’

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Last week was National Autism Week and The Sycamore Trust a local charity that caters for people with autism across Havering, Barking and Dagenham and Redbridge took part in a series of special events to mark the occasion.

The week’s activities included a special visit from the Secretary of State Matt Hancock, who paid a visit to the centre last Thursday the April 4 to see for himself the amazing work the centre does.

Mr Hancock watched a special presentation from two of the Sycamore Trust’s special ambassadors on what it is like having autism and then took part in a series of activities.The first activity involved the parents and autism sufferers gathering round the MP and all at once telling him what activities they had done the night before. Mr Hancock had to recall each activity each person had said, which certainly proved to be very challenging!

The Secretary of State for Health was then asked to build a replica shape to the one shown to him with a set of building blocks, following very quick instructions. All these were done to show him what autism sufferers go through on a daily basis.

Following the presentation and activities Mr Hancock spoke with parents and autism sufferers about the challenges they face and the struggles they go through. Parents were frank and put their points across to him about the difficulties they have faced having their child diagnosed as autistic.

At the end of the visit Mr Hancock said: “As a society we need to support people with autism to live a fulfilling life in a way that allows them to fulfil their potential.

“There is more that we need to do to change the way that society works and we need to support people with autism. Raising awareness of autism and what it means to be autistic and how we can help is important.

“There is existing support now for people with autism but there is clearly much more that we need to do. Our review of the Autism Act ten years on since it came in is an open review all about making sure that we do the best over the next ten years.”

Open doors

He added: “I have taken two big points away from today.

“Firstly the need for more awareness across, schools parents and employers for what its like to be autistic and the reasonable adjustments we can all make to make life easier for people with autism.

“Secondly the length of time it can take to get a formal diagnosis which then opens the door to other services. Those two messages came out very clearly today. “

Autism Ambassador Francesca Cutrie from the Sycamore trust told The Enquirer: “I’d like the Secretary of State to help girls who suffer with autism and help women on the spectrum, just because we are very articulate and outspoken doesn’t mean we don’t struggle.

“I struggled for years with things like make up, clothing having to be a certain way. I struggled with that and society. We need to help girls out there with autism. Most of the help goes to boys but women need help too.”

The Health Secretary continued “All employers should look at the value of employing people with autism.

“I have a strong belief that everybody has strong contribution to society and employers have a role in helping people to make that contribution.”

Mr Hancock left stating that his visit had certainly made a big impact on him and that he had learnt a lot.

Friday April 5 was ‘Dare to be Different Day’. People across Havering and Barking and Dagenham went to work wearing something different.

Councillor Graham Williamson went to work wearing one blue shoe and one white shoe, South Hornchurch Independent activist Ross Elliott wore a jumper with a stunning orange tie on top and I wore a pair of very fetching sports sock for the day!
At the Sycamore Trust staff donned fancy dress clothes for the day, to highlight autism awareness week. Steve Dixon from the Trust told The Enquirer: “It was a huge success, the key thing was to raise our profile as a charity and to raise awareness of autism. The Sycamore Trust does some wonderful work but some people haven’t heard of us so this week has been amazing.

“People had a lot of fun dressing up and daring to be different and I look forward to doing the same next year!”

The week ended at Havering town hall where Mayor Councillor Dilip Patel raised the Austin awareness flag with members of the Sycamore Trust.

Councillor Patel told The Enquirer: “The Sycamore Trust is doing a fantastic job across three different boroughs and it is very important that we all get behind autism awareness week.

“I’m really happy to be here today to help promote this amazing charity and highlight autism awareness week.”

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