Recently, many parents have contacted me via my charity website or via social media sharing they are struggling to find and access out-of-school clubs or groups (such as performing arts, sport, etc.), and sadly, they have been turned away due to their child’s autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis.
I wanted to see how widespread across the UK this was happening to families. As the founder of the well-known “Autism’s Got Talent” annual show, I have seen firsthand how wonderfully talented autistic individuals can be showcasing their talent in the creative arts and media world. Determined to find an answer, I recently set up a Facebook survey to determine the need for more opportunities for people on the spectrum. To date, 250 families have completed the survey creating some interesting results.
Here are the questions asked and some responses:
Has your child ever been turned away from a local club, performing arts class, sports facility, or leisure environment due to his/her autism?
More than 50 percent of the participants said Yes adding this rejection made their child feel upset and even more isolated.
Does your child have a hobby or talent?
More than 70 percent replied Yes. Hobbies and talents ranged from dancing, Minecraft, playing the keyboard, making videos, horse riding, sailing, golfing, playing computer games, programming, and many more.
Do you have autism-friendly clubs in your area?
Only 53 percent of families replied Yes.
I asked my husband, who is our charities legal adviser, about the Equality Act 2010 that came largely into force in October 2010. He shared this was designed to stop people with identified protected characteristics from being discriminated against. One of the protected characteristics is disability, and the definition of what constitutes a disability is found in the statute in Section 6. In summary, a disability is:
A physical or mental impairment that has long-term (meaning it lasts or is likely to last at least a year), substantial (meaning more than minor or trivial) adverse effect on the person’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities.
The overall aim of the strategy is to promote equality, and its applicability is wide-ranging. Clubs which provide activities for children are certainly covered in relation to disabled children, even if they are voluntary, and they would be advised to make themselves aware of what the Equality Act says, and it should be said that many clubs do a good job. In summary, clubs should certainly not just refuse to allow children to join simply because they have a disability. At the very least, the club ought to look at what reasonable adjustments or accommodations could be made for potential and actual members and guests. This removes any disadvantages to the disabled child.
I am hoping that families will share where their autism-friendly clubs are located so we can share across the UK, and other autistic individuals can benefit.
James Robinson is the policy lead for learning disability charity Mencap. He said many children with disabilities are unable to join out-of-school clubs because the institutions do not meet their needs.
This could leave the children alienated from their communities. It would mean they were unable to enjoy the same opportunities as their peers.
Robinson added, “Reasonable adjustments, such as disability training for staff to meet additional needs, can be a simple way of helping many disabled children to access these activities. It can ensure they have access to equal opportunities at this crucial stage in life.”
If you would like to participate, here is the survey.
Anna Kennedy is well-known for setting up schools and other facilities to provide an improved education for special children affected by Asperger’s syndrome and autism. She has now expanded her support for these special children including two schools, a college, a respite home, and a website with over 50,000 international followers. She was appointed an OBE (Royal Reward for Inspirational Mother) Award by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in 2012 for her services.
This article was featured in Issue 67 – Preparing for Adulthood With Autism