Autism and Aspergers is a subject that some may have very little knowledge of, or are indeed reluctant to talk about. I recently attended a lecture around the symptom that was led by three Autistic and Aspergers university students, who in my eyes summed it up perfectly. The title of the workshop was ‘The stone in my shoe’. It was like living with a stone in shoe day in and day out, incredibly frustrating, knowing it is there but no matter how much you jiggle your foot it just won’t shift.
Thanks to a charity like PASN (Portsmouth Autism Support Network), they are trying to minimise that ‘stone’ as much as they can through a number of different workshops aimed at helping as many people understand or deal with the condition. one of them is Autinet is an Internet Café where young people can access the internet safely and interact with others of a similar age. The session is aimed at children with autism, a lifelong disability that affects someone’s communication skills. run every Wednesday, running from 18:30 till 20:30 at the study centre.
Almost 520,000 people in the UK are affected by a form of autism, the ability to develop friendships with autism is limited due to the capacity of understanding others emotions. It is hoped that through these workshops, some of the barriers faced by individuals will be alleviated in some way shape or form.
I have been volunteering at the Autinet session since December. I have to admit that I didn’t really know what to expect. The sessions have been running since the start of the academic year by Michael Pink our disability coordinator at the organisation. What greeted me on attending, exceeded my expectations. The turnout of young people and parents to the sessions were incredible. It appeared that it was not only the children that enjoyed their time but parents as well, who evidently had an opportunity to share experiences and challenges as well as to have the opportunity just to have a nice cuppa and have a chat. One girl has an unbelievable passion for Liverpool football club and can tell you everything you need to know about Philippe Coutinho, a Brazilian professional footballer. One boy’s capacity of knowledge, is outstanding. He directed me last week on what tube line I needed to get and where to change platforms before my trip to London. I’ve learnt a thing or two so far, that’s for sure. On the whole there seems to be a real community spirit amongst the group, and people really treated the session as a community group exercise that everyone could get involved with.
I think it may be too easy for the parents to drop their children off and return two hours later, but ultimately that is not the idea of the exercise. Creating an environment where people want to stay and feel relaxed is something that Pompey in the Community has strived to achieve since day one. It certainly appears to working for this group, as there is another coffee and biscuits to shake a stick at, and the children have enough tuck goodies available to them that they could shake a small log at!
A typical session consists of interactive games on the computers in the main suite at the Study Centre. Children have the freedom to do what they want on the computer facilities and and parents are in the knowledge that they are doing so, in a safe environment. Any working day is a long one, virtually everybody can emphasise with that, but Wednesday’s is worth helping out to see the enjoyment and laughter the children have, a chance to relate and spend time with their newly made friends, something that maybe without the help of PASN and Pompey in the Community may not have seemed like a possibility.
For more information on Autism and the charity PASN have a browse of the website http://www.portsmouth-autism-support.co.uk/