Making a difference to branches across the country
Published on 04 June 2020
The National Autistic Society helps run volunteer led branches up and down the country. They support autistic people in the local area with important services and activities.
We caught up with Sam Kahn, housewife and mother to two children, one of the two parents who set up the Thurrock branch in Essex.
I have an autistic son and a daughter who is not on the spectrum. My son was diagnosed when he was around four. The nursery had noticed that he wasn’t interacting with the other children, but didn’t tell me. It was only when I went to a ‘Take your Parent to School’ visit that I noticed the difference between my son and his peers. We were lucky enough to get a quick diagnosis but what I didn’t realise was that this was just the start. The next five years were tough. Schools, doctors, everything. Often I was made to feel like I was making it up, like I didn’t know my own child. I felt uncertain and isolated. I’m not ashamed to say that this led to depression and a lot of hard times for me.
I got stronger, but then had to get what was then known as a Special Needs Statement for my son. Many parents will probably agree these were soul destroying documents. Luckily they have now been replaced by the Education Health Care Plan. Those familiar feelings came back and I needed help. I got in touch with the National Autistic Society and they pointed me in the right direction.
I didn’t want other parents to go through what I went through. Seeing how Thurrock wasn’t well covered, I tried to set up a support group. I really wanted to help. I tried to do my own thing but it didn’t work out, so I volunteered through the National Autistic Society. They were there again to give me advice, information and structure.
Five years on, we’re supporting around a hundred families across the borough. We have 25 support groups, and lots of activities ranging from lunches to Dad clubs, and bowling nights to pop arcades for all the family. It’s really good to see the smiles on people’s faces. The five of us on the committee who volunteer to put on the activities love doing this. Whether it be passing on helpful information, giving someone a breather or just having a good time, it’s really great to see so many people enjoying themselves. And none of this existed here before.
I’ve had so many good days because of this branch but one of my proudest achievements has been setting up a Duke of Edinburgh for autistic people in the area. Autistic school children can often be excluded from taking part. This isn’t the schools’ fault - they just weren’t able to provide appropriate support for autistic students. As an autistic person, you can’t help but feel excluded and isolated in those situations. It can feel like there’s a world for them and a world for us. For the first time, we’re offering DoE to as many people as we can - non-verbal people, wheelchair users, those with additional needs. We’ve worked with loads of people to tailor a programme for the branch.
This is also the first year we’re doing a ‘Skills for Life’ programme which will help some of the older members of our group learn necessary skills which aren’t on the school curriculum.
Looking back, it’s amazing how the National Autistic Society has been there just when I need them.
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