A charity set up by a Bristol mum who couldn’t find support for her autistic daughter is celebrating its ninth birthday this week.
Bristol Autism Support (BAS) started as a handful of parents meeting once a month in a Southville pub but has grown to a community of more than 3,000 Bristol autism parents.
Based in Knowle, BAS is the only autism-specific parent-carer support charity covering the Bristol area. It provides support through three Facebook groups, a website, face-to-face and online support groups and training, as well as email, phone and mentoring support.
Kate Laine-Toner, 50, from Pill, founded the charity to bring parents and carers of autistic children together to share knowledge and experience and reduce isolation.
Having a child with autism can be isolating for parents. Family and friends may abandon the parent, and the nature of the disability means the family may not fit in with traditional society. This can lead to isolation and even mental health issues for the parents.
Additionally, most support services are only available after the child receives an official diagnosis, but this process takes, on average, two years. It’s during this time that parents most need support and advice on how best to help their child.
Kate has given up more than 10,000 hours of her free time, unpaid, to grow the charity.
When most professional support was withdrawn from autism families during the pandemic, BAS stepped in to fill the gap. Kate produced and posted more than 400 pieces of advice and resources to the Facebook pages; posted support videos for parents; mustered a team of volunteers to make support phone calls to BAS parents and to provide mentoring to those who wanted it; sent “love letters” and wellness packs through the post to give parents a boost; and carried on running all the support groups, training courses and family events via Zoom.
In a member survey collated this year, 89 per cent of members described BAS as ‘supportive,’ 88 per cent as ‘informative’, and 93 per cent as ‘helpful.’
Nearly 60 per cent of members said their mental health had improved since joining BAS, and 82 per cent said it had made them feel less isolated.
Half of BAS members reported that they had made new friends through BAS, and 95 per cent said they would recommend the charity to a friend.
One member answering the survey said:
“You never feel judged about anything you say as you know everyone is in the same situation.”
“It’s amazing to reach this milestone. I would never have imagined when I first started the group that it would grow in the way it has.
“It feels very special to have touched so many lives in Bristol and beyond, and I hope we can continue growing and supporting as many autism parents and carers as possible.
“It’s been a very dark year for a lot of our members, with all the specialist support their children need suddenly withdrawn during the pandemic. It’s meant that the charity was more important than ever because, for many people, we were their only source of support for months on end.
“Our mission is to make sure that every parent and carer of an autistic child can access support and information not only after their child is diagnosed but from the moment they suspect their child may be autistic.”
Plans for later in 2021 include expansion of existing services and increased support for BAME families.
The charity will also continue to help unemployed parents of autistic children to get back into work.