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AAW Introduction from our CEO

2nd April 2024


World Autism Acceptance Week

CEO Opening Message

This year World Autism Awareness Day falls on the 2nd April and Autism Acceptance Week runs from this date to the until 9th April.

Not only is this is a great time to enjoy the early signs of spring but it’s also a chance for us to reflect both on what we’ve achieved as  charity as a whole and on personal milestones related to our work with Autism West Midlands.

For me, I’ve now completed a full year in my role as Chief Executive and, despite all the challenges we face in the charity and social care environments, I feel that we should be rightly proud of the work we are doing to support autistic people, their families and carers across the wider West Midlands.

The range of projects and support services delivered by the Community Services team continues to grow and we get great feedback from people coming to us for help and advice.

Whether it’s ‘Rising to the Challenge’ groups for parents, our ‘Autism Confident’ sessions for teenagers and adults, sibling workshops, ‘stay and play’ activities for younger children, adult wellbeing activities or 1:1 pre-and post-diagnosis support sessions, we are successfully delivering specific and tailored support to people in ways that work for them.

We’ve also seen calls to our Helpline take a record number of calls and although this is a sign that people may be struggling to access services, it does mean they are starting the conversation about the situations they are facing. It also shows that our reputation is growing as the place to go for information, advice and guidance around autism.

In our regulated services, we are making steady progress in modernising the ways we work and improving the quality of life and opportunities for autistic people with learning disabilities. This includes the roll-out of digital care plans and recording software that will make life easier for our support workers, improve our quality monitoring processes and give a boost to number of the opportunities and activities we offer to the people in our care settings.

From a campaigning perspective, we continue to be very involved with the Autism Alliance whose latest initiative, ‘Doing the Right Thing’ calls on Government to make good on their commitments under the National Autism Strategy which has been in place since 2021. The Alliance’s headline ‘asks’ are for the introduction of a Commissioner for Autistic People (to oversee and drive the strategy) and the introduction of mandatory autism training across all public services.

We are also very supportive of the campaign Mencap are leading on the government’s failure to meet its own targets on reducing the number of autistic people and people with learning disabilities who are currently detained in mental health hospitals. Despite the NHS launching the ‘Building the Right Support’ programme in 2015, there are still over 2000 people held as in-patients in secure hospitals with the average stay being 4.9 years in these settings.

The need for urgent investment in specialist community support as an alternative to hospital and a real focus on early intervention and prevention could not be more obvious.

With a general election looming, we would ask all of our supporters to challenge prospective candidates on what they are planning to do to tackle what is fast becoming a national scandal. The recent coverage by ITV news has certainly raised the profile of this issue and we need to make sure it stays high on the agenda as the parties prepare their election campaigns.

Elsewhere, there is also much more that needs to be done to ensure our communities are inclusive and supportive to autistic people. There are some sobering statistics from the National Autistic Society that show that only 26% of autistic pupils feel happy at school, that only 29% of autistic adults are in any form of employment and that 70% of autistic people experience mental health problems.

Autism Acceptance Week is the prompt for all of us to think about what we can do as individuals and as groups or employers to make our society more inclusive and more aware of the needs of autistic people.

Like anyone, autistic people have a range of strengths and challenges, we need to ensure we recognise and respond to those strengths but also take time to consider the challenges and make adjustments where they are needed.

If you’re interested in what we do, whether that’s working or volunteering for us or thinking of fundraising for us please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.



Tom Harrison

Chief Executive Officer


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