So about 3 years ago now I wrote a blog post called “How it all began..” . As we approach our 5th birthday I thought it was time to revisit that and bring it up to date.
Many of our members have been there right from the very start but as we have grown so much in the last couple of years, there are so many new families who regularly ask questions about how we started so hopefully this will help.
In early 2011, my son had had his Autism diagnosis a few months, and I felt really lost and alone. I didn't know any other parents with a child on the spectrum, the mainstream school situation we were in at that time was dreadful and friends tried their best, but, just didn't understand. Not being able to find what I needed at the time, in terms of support that was accessible to me, I turned to Facebook. I have always been a Facebook girl, so one afternoon I decided if I couldn't find what I needed I would do it myself. So I started a Facebook group.
I needed something that I could access when I had time, and was convenient, I
remember thinking there has to be a few parents in the Ashford area like me. Well that was an understatement! Since his initial diagnosis of Autism in 2011 my Son has since been diagnosed with ADHD, Epilepsy, Hyper Mobility and Sensory Processing Disorder.
The group started small, but steadily grew. It was while I was pregnant with my second child, that those on group asked about regular face to face meet up’s. So that was what I set about doing, not as easy as you would first think, as I was told a few times an ASD specific group wasn't needed in Ashford and it should be pan disability. Well I disagreed and it certainly wasn't true from the members of the group at that time, and still isn't true today. Eventually I met with the Children's Centre in Ashford, they were amazing, and without them we wouldn't of got started. So with a venue sorted at The Willow Centre, our monthly support group meetings started in June 2012. After a suggestion from a friend that a website might be a good idea, I spent the summer putting one together myself, that was launched in the September. I am always quietly proud of the website, not because it's the best in the world, but because at the time it was something I thought I couldn't do.
For the first year the group ran entirely out of my own pocket, the costs weren't high but they were starting to add up. So just before Christmas of 2012 we began
fundraising for the first time, and were able to have a small kitty to start the new year.
ASD Ashford has always been and to date still is unfunded. All that we do we do by the fundraising efforts of our wonderful members and local community. From a Firewalk to Cycle Rides and Fetes.
As group grew it became clear we needed a base, and I needed to reclaim my bedroom. We eventually moved into a small office at International, but after just 6 months we faced eviction due to it being sold. Ashford Borough Council assisted ourselves and the other charities on that floor to relocate. We have a lovely little office now in County Square Shopping Centre, this has enabled us since January 2015 to offer a drop in on a Tuesday, people can stop off for some advice and info, use the resources or to just have a cuppa. On a Thursday we offer our 1-1 appointments, to help with things like diagnosis, form filling, assistance with EHCP’s to name but a few. As for the other days I am often supporting at appointments/assessments, school meetings, organising group meetings or running training days. Although our Facebook group is still very much at the heart of the group, we are now able to offer much more to those families and Carers in our community.
Our training days run regularly throughout the year on various Autism related topics. Just over 2 years ago by a serendipitous moment I was introduced to Austin Hughes by one of our mums, I remember her saying you have talk to Austin! Well I did and a few years on I still am. Austin delivers all our training days to parents and professionals, last year we trained just over 500 people. I am delighted to say that in 2014 he became our Patron too.
Advice and support is offered through many forms, social media, email, it's also not a 9 till 5 Monday – Friday service, that's something I feel passionate about.
Some people assume there's several people running ASD Ashford, and that's a natural assumption.
Although I am very blessed in the last year to have a few good people around me who I am able to rely on to help especially with organising events and group meetings, as well as being able to ask their opinions on things, day to day it is just me.
We have come a long way in our nearly 5 years, thank you to everyone who has supported us this far.
Austin is a former actor/singer who in his spare time would volunteer and
work in and around many disabilities. Not happy with some of what he saw, Austin developed his own workshops.
His interest in autism grew from a friend that was on the ‘spectrum’. He
learned how to build strong bonds and understanding by putting himself in the shoes of the person he’s working with – seeing life from their point of view.
After suffering a serious head/brain injury in 2007 Austin was left with his
own disabilities which brought about a change in his career. Working within autism became his main focus as he trained and enjoyed working for the NAS.
He is currently Senior Behavioural Support and Training Officer for Anna Kennedy Online.
Austin has been delivering training with ASD Ashford over the last 2 years, and has helped many of our members. He has always been hugely supportive of what we do as group, and it's fair to say he has been taken to the hearts of our families.
It was with great pleasure that in February 2014, he came on board as our Patron.