Autism Bedfordshire

What our service does

Autism Bedfordshire is a charity that provides services to individuals with autism, their families, carers and professionals across Bedfordshire. Our key purpose is to provide emotional and practical support as well as information, advice, guidance and advocacy.

The outcomes our services deliver (as evidenced by our monitoring and evaluation) are:

1. Individuals with autism and their families will feel less isolated.
2. Individuals with autism will develop confidence, self-esteem, communication, social and life skills.
3. Parents will feel less stressed and better able to cope.
4. Parents will improve their knowledge about autism and the services available.

Autism is a lifelong disability so our membership reflects this as we support both children and adults. We run countywide services for our members including:

- family support groups (L.O.A.F. - Loads of Autistic Fun)
- youth groups (Wanted Fun)
- summer activity schemes
- extended services (e.g. trampolining, golf and swim sessions)
- skills training courses for adults with autism
- social groups for adults with autism
- parent training
- autism awareness training for professions (levels 1, 2 and 3)
- a helpline service (01234 350704) with trained and experienced team members on hand to answer calls (anything from services enquiries to crisis calls).

Autism Bedfordshire’s members can access books and other resources from our library and will receive our bi-monthly newsletter giving details about our services and other groups and activities that may be of interest. We also communicate information to members and our staff through e-newsletters. We have a website that anyone can access and we are on Facebook and Twitter.

Location of our service

The services that we provide in Bedford Borough are run from the following venues:

- L.O.A.F. group (Loads of Autistic Fun) is at St. Johns Special School, off Bedford Road in Kempston.
- Wanted Fun is at the Kempston Youth Centre, on Hillgrounds road in Kempston.
- Summer Programme –These are based at the Kempston Youth Centre and St. Johns.
- Extended services – Trampolining sessions will be running from the Bunyan Centre in Bedford.
- Adult Skills Project – runs from various Bedford town centre locations, including the Youth Inspired Centre on Mill Street.
- Adult Social Group - runs from various Bedford town centre locations (cinema’s, restaurants, etc.), including the Youth Inspired Centre on Mill Street.
- Parent Training – provided at the Child Development Centre in Kempston
- Autism Awareness Training for professionals – at various venues, according to the audience.

We also run these services in Central Bedfordshire and Luton Borough.

Who our service provides for

Our services provides for the needs of people with their autism, of all ages, as well as their parents/carers and other family members and professionals working with people with autism. The eligibility criteria for using our services is that the individual lives in Bedfordshire and is affected by or connected with autism.

Many of our members have other disabilities co-existing with their autism and we do not exclude them. We can cater for individuals who have learning difficulties, mental health issues and physical disabilities.

Our services are tailored to the different ages, interests and abilities of people with autism. Details are given below:

- L.O.A.F. (Loads of Autistic Fun) is a family support and activity groups for children aged 0-12 years with autism (including those with associated learning difficulties), their siblings and parents/ carers. L.O.A.F. runs on a fortnightly basis on Saturdays from 10am until 1pm during term time. The groups provide an inclusive environment where the children are supported by trained staff and volunteers who understand their anxieties and needs, and the parents get a much-needed break and peer support in the parents room.

- Wanted Fun is a youth group for young people aged 10-17 years with high functioning autism and Asperger Syndrome. Sessions run on alternate Friday evenings during term time from 6.30-8.30pm. The young people have the opportunity to be away from their family and be a teenager whilst being supported by trained staff and volunteers who facilitate the activities and socialising.

- Summer Activity Programme – for children aged 3-17 years on the autistic spectrum. We run a range of weeklong activity schemes for the children according to their age and ability: the Junior Activity Scheme for children aged 3-9 years across the autistic spectrum; Holiday Clubs for young people with classic (Kanner’s) autism and learning difficulties (the Junior Club is for 10-13 year olds and the Senior Club is for 14-17 year olds); and Summer Fun for young people aged 10-17 years with high functioning autism and Asperger Syndrome.

- Extended services – Trampolining sessions for young people aged 11-25 years on the autistic spectrum. Sessions will run for 6 weeks during the autumn term at the Bunyan Centre in Bedford.

- Adult Skills Project – 3 x 8 week courses per year for adults aged 18 years and over with Asperger Syndrome and high functioning autism. These courses cover social communication skills, communications skills in the workplace, and employment skills and volunteering.

- Adult Social Group – this group is for individuals aged 18 years and over with Asperger Syndrome and high functioning autism. The group meets every two weeks alternately at the Youth Inspired Centre or at a venue in the community e.g. at pub quiz night, bowling or cinema.

- Parent Training – 3 hour long parent training courses delivered by a CAMHs Psychologist run during the summer term in Bedford Borough (course run in Central Bedfordshire in the autumn term and in Luton in the spring term). Topics include; What Is Autism, Managing Challenging Behaviour, Sexuality And Relationships, Anxiety, Sleep Problems, Communication and Caring For The Carer.

- Autism Awareness Training for professionals – Level 1 – Basic autism awareness ( ½ day session – morning or afternoon), Level 2 – full day workshop, Level 3 higher level – includes one day workshop and ½ day follow up session after three months to look at how training has been used.

How to start using our service

Autism Bedfordshire is based on a self-referral system, so individuals who would like to access our services call or email Autism Bedfordshire directly. However, schools and social workers can call on their behalf and paperwork can be emailed or posted out to start the ball rolling.

To access Autism Bedfordshire’s services individuals, families or professionals need to become members. This is a £20 (individuals/families) or £25 (professional groups) one-off membership fee (introduced in 2012 – previously it was an annual subscription). Individuals/families can ‘try’ our LOAF, Wanted Fun and Adult Social Groups by being invited along to a session for free. The fees for our services are:

- LOAF - £7.50 per family per session
- Wanted Fun - £3.50 per session
- Summer Activity Schemes - £16.50 per child per day
- Trampolining - £3.50 per session
- Adult Skills Project - £5 per session
- Adult Social Group - £3.50 per session
- CAMHs Parent Training – free
- Autism Awareness Training for professionals - free

Places are limited and there are currently waiting lists for LOAF, Wanted Fun and the Adult Skills Project. We try to ensure people wait no longer than a term to join our groups. Personal budgets can be used to pay for services.

How decisions are made about who can use our service

All decisions about changes to services must be agreed and approved by the Board of Trustees. All our trustees bring with them a wealth of knowledge, experience and expertise in a variety of fields. Three are parents of children with autism, and so they very much have members’ interests at heart when they make decisions. Any changes that might be made about who can use our services and the reasons behind the decisions would be published in our newsletter and on our website. If anyone needed clarification, they could ring or e-mail the office.

How we communicate with our service users

We seek, monitor and evaluate our members’ views of our services through formal written evaluation questionnaires from children*, parents, staff and professionals, staff observations, visits to the groups, case studies and interviews, feedback from parent and youth committees / focus groups, and records of helpline requests. Our full membership and stakeholder consultation (every 3 years) asks members about current services and also what services they feel Autism Bedfordshire could provide in the future and we take this feedback into consideration when drawing up our strategic plans.

* The children’s evaluations use pictorial symbols to help them communicate what they like and don’t like. Staff are on hand to help the children fill the form in.

A number of our staff are trained in using Makaton signing to help the children who can’t communicate verbally express their views. We also use a version of Talking Mats™ which uses visual symbols as the basis for communication. Some staff are also multi-lingual and can talk to parents/carers whose first language is not English.

Our leaflets include a Children’s Services Guide, an Adult Services Guide (copies attached), various flyers about our services and information sheets about other services that are available from our library.

The majority of parents report seeing their child progress in areas such as communication and social skills as a result of attending our groups. They can further talk to staff at the groups about how their child is doing. On our Summer Schemes, staff fill out a ‘Home Scheme Book’ which tells the parents/carers what their child has been doing and how they’ve been each day. The book also gives the parents/carers the opportunity to write note about how their child is feeling each day.

We run parent training events on a regular basis. The latest training is the courses being delivered by a CAMHs Psychologist and this has been exceptionally well received. We also invite guest speakers in the field of autism to our AGM which is well attended by our members.

Accessibility of our service

Autism Bedfordshire recently moved offices from the outskirts of Bedford (Brickhill) to Salamander House which is in the centre of Bedford Town. The new office is more easily accessible using public transport. There are parking facilities. Whilst not wheelchair accessible, we also have access to meeting rooms in the town centre which are wheelchair accessible.

The groups that Autism Bedfordshire runs are based at fully accessible venues that are suitable for the needs of the attendees. For example, we use a specialist school in Kempston for both L.O.A.F. and the Summer Programme to ensure we are able and equipped to cater for our target audience, i.e. autism friendly, with disabled access and facilities where necessary and needed (e.g. disabled toilets and changing facilities, sensory rooms, soft play areas and enclosed, secure outside spaces).

Autism Bedfordshire use specially trained staff and volunteers to support the children, young people and adults at the groups, and many have considerable knowledge and experience of working with people with autism and can assist them in accessing the activities.

Qualifications and training of our staff

All Autism Bedfordshire staff and volunteers are subject to DBS checks and references to ensure they are suitable to work with our members. All staff and volunteers are trained annually in Autism Awareness, Behaviour Management, Safeguarding and all our policies and procedures. Some staff (team leaders and experienced support workers) are also trained in paediatric first aid, food hygiene, Epi-Pen and administering rescue medication. Many of our staff come from professions in Early Years and Childcare, Health, Education and Social Welfare.

Autism Bedfordshire endeavours to work closely with other agencies and groups in Bedfordshire. These include, but are not exclusive to, Bedford Mencap, F.U.N. (Families United Network), Youth Inspired, CAMH, social work teams, Bedfordshire CCG and the NHS. Autism Bedfordshire is also part of the Autism Alliance where we share knowledge and expertise with other autism-specific organisations across the country.

General Contact Information

The general enquiries telephone number is 01234 214871; the helpline telephone number is 01234 350704.
E-mail enquiries should go to:

Enquiries about Children’s Services (up to age 18) should be directed to our Children’s Service Manager, Liz McTernan.
Enquiries about Adult Services (age 18 +) should be directed to our Adults Service Manager, Chris Stelling.
Parent Training enquiries should be directed to the Development Team.
Professional Autism Awareness Training enquiries should be directed to our Training Administrator, Liz Walters.

Please call the general enquiries telephone line or email and your question will be forwarded onto the relevant member of the Autism Bedfordshire Team.

Contact for more information

Liz McTernan / Chris Stelling
Children’s Services Manager / Adult’s Services Manager
1 Hammond Road, Bedford, Bedfordshire, MK41 0UD
01234 350704 (Helpline) 01234 214871 (enquiries)
Opening Hours:
9am – 5pm Monday to Friday