Action for Asperger’s (AfA) charity was founded in 2008 by Elaine Nicholson from the sofa of her sitting room in Oundle.
Elaine, herself a qualified counsellor, developed an autism-cognisant model of counselling for individuals who were neuro-diverse, i.e. diagnosed or undiagnosed as being autistic.
AfA is now UK-wide and its aims are to counsel and support those individuals aged three years and upwards that have autism/autism spectrum and also to counsel those that are in a close relationship with an autistic individual, such as a parent, sibling or partner.
Twelve years on and 5,000 clients later, it is evident that Nicholson’s vision has been a success.
One in a hundred people is said to have autism in this country. Autism/autism spectrum condition is defined as a pervasive developmental condition that affects a person’s communication and interaction.
It’s not that autistic people cannot communicate or interact with others, they can, but the quality of their communication and interaction is often poor and they can experience anxiety that is off the scale when forced to communicate/interact.
In addition to impairment in communication and interaction, the autistic individual is literally enslaved to their own ritualistic, repetitive, routine and repetitive behaviours – behaviours that are inherent to the autistic condition – so, if supper is always served at 6pm and mother gets waylaid and serves their meal at 6.10pm, their world can collapse due to the sudden change of routine.
Additionally, autistic individuals suffer ill sensory affects; many cannot tolerate loud sounds, or even low (repetitive) sounds like a ticking clock, bright sunlight, crowds, and hugs (just a few sensory experiences to mention).
So, here is my explanation of what autism/autism spectrum is – a cradle through to grave experience – yet, and this is the sting, in over 80 percent of people with autism it cannot be seen.
That’s right…someone with autism can look just like you and I, yet under the surface that is skin their autistic condition is turning in a kaleidoscopic manner every waking hour of their lives.
An autistic young person may wake in the morning and contemplate, “is today going to be good for me?” and they then set about their day in hope of this goodness happening, then, lo behold, a toddler in Tesco’s screams, and the sensory effects of hearing the child’s screams send them into a meltdown from which they will need two days to recover from.
When you have autism, it is like walking a tightrope over a pool of crocodiles! Living in a world where 98-99 percent of people think very differently to you can be isolating and often harmful. Discrimination towards atypical thinkers occurs daily all around the world and is probably one of the last bastions of discrimination.
In 2008, I contemplated that autistic minds and the psychological experiences of their loved ones were being sorely and severely neglected and I did something about that.
One of the very first things that I did was to set up online counselling for lives that were adversely affected by Asperger’s syndrome (autism spectrum/autism).
My reasons for reaching out via video were that I knew that an autistic teenager could live 500 yards up the road, yet his/her autism meant that they were fearful about leaving their homes, but with video, I could get through their doors and help them.
On the other hand, you could have an autistic person living 3,000 miles away, and video allowed me to reach them and help them. I was a pioneer of this type of communication and it suited autistic minds perfectly.
AfA has come a long way since 2008, and we are operational from four sites in the UK: Corby and Wollaston in Northamptonshire, Glasgow in Scotland and Llandudno Junction in North Wales.
However, since Covid-19 hit we are confined to remote working, but, luckily, we are used to this system of working, of its weaknesses and strengths and so on.
AfA counsellors have long since been used to virtual (video) counselling, in fact it could be said that AfA as an organisation is one of the early pioneers of this method of therapeutic assistance.
Unlike 95 percent of counsellors “out there” who now find themselves having to adjust quickly from one-on-one consultations to video consultations, at AfA we are taking this in our stride.
Although AfA specialises in autism, during COVID-19 we are opening up our online doors to anyone, regardless of neurological type i.e. you don’t have to have autism to be seen by a counsellor from AfA.
We desperately want to help the global effort to stave off the coronavirus adverse psychological affects that many will likely suffer. After eight weeks of lockdown, I am seeing many of my friends falling further into depression and its heart breaking to witness.
All of AfA’s counsellors have been generically trained in counselling; only later did they specialise in autism.
We can help everyone and anyone therefore to learn how to cope with what is to come.
I encourage anyone who is suffering psychologically now or in the future to get in touch. We do have to charge a small charitable fee for our service due to lack of governmental and lottery funding, but we can assure a soothing, empathetic and healing experience from the commencement of your counselling experience. Please don’t suffer in silence – we can help you.