Autism Parents Together (Tees Valley) is a charity that was established in May 2019 by a group of parents of children with Autism, who saw there was a gap in our area for support and affordable, accessible activities/training for families affected by Autism. The charity started as a Facebook support group in 2018 for the parents/carers of children with Autism, and now supports over 1,400 parents/carers in the Tees Valley.
In the short time since establishing, the charity has arranged exclusive and heavily subsidised activities such as Airtrail, karting, GAME arena, soft play, training, carer gift boxes and Santa Express. The charity was responsible, along with GAME Teesside Park, in setting up the first group sessions for children with Autism, which has seen these sessions extended to UK wide GAME branches.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on everyone, but it has been felt particularly acutely by the families of Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). The impact of COVID has initially impacted on SEND children by shutting off access to school, for some, which is a key function by which they get the daily support, care and stimulation (physical/mental) that they need. This in turn has had a knock-on effect on the parents/carers and siblings due to the stresses and strains of supporting SEND children without any form of respite.
One of the first actions the government took following the implementation of lockdown, was to temporarily change the law, so that local authorities weren’t under the same legal obligations to provide children with the support they are legally entitled through Education and Health Care Plans. This has meant that some children have gone several months without the support deemed necessary to maintain or develop their social, emotional and physical health.
The charity has also been affected by COVID in several ways. Income has dropped, as has the amount of time available to support other parents/carers. As the charity relies upon volunteers, who are also parents/carers of children with Autism, there has understandably been a drop in the amount of time donated because volunteers are facing their own challenges at home. The charity has also been unable to rely upon organised sponsored events to raise money to pay for activities, including the annual Ball, which raises a large portion of the annual funding. There has been some wonderful backing by supporters who have undertaken numerous sponsored activities during this difficult year to raise money for the charity, allowing the charity to continue supporting families.
As a result of lockdown the charity has expanded into the virtual world and worked with several local business partners to reach out to families to support them and keep them active. Zoom has been utilised to run events such as Webinar training sessions and Minecraft gaming sessions. Some of the other activities the charity have arranged included delivering cookie and pizza making kits, organising a Bake-off competition, providing Science kits and delivering Christmas presents to those families who were finding things financially tough, thanks to the Hartlepool Giving Tree.
In the coming months the charity will continue to work with its business partners to create more activities and events. They are particularly pleased to be arranging monthly Webinar sessions covering issues such as Autism Diagnosis Explained, Understanding Depression, Self-Harm and Eating Disorders and Strategies for Managing Challenging Behaviour, the first session will be on 14th March and will be on Anxiety and Hyperarousal.
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