Please note: all social activities and interactions mentioned in this piece took place prior to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. All staff are ensuring that the people we support are safe during this difficult time whilst helping them to understand and cope with the restrictions set by the Government.
Two of our autism specialist day centres, BROCS and Acorns Autism Support, host an annual summer gala. It brings together the people we support, the local community and businesses to join in with fun and games as well as eat lovely food. It is an event that the autistic people they support get heavily involved with!
Why a summer gala?
Gail, manager of both centres, said: “I wanted to let everybody in the community know that we are here and tell them about what we do. I wanted community participation and something fun for everyone to get involved with.”
The gala is usually held around August / September and this year (if we are able to go ahead) will be the sixth one. Over the years, attendance has grown with last year seeing 60 people attend!
Planning the gala
A lot of planning takes place, as you can imagine, such as food shopping, sending promotional letters and making baskets of sweets, games and prizes. People who attend the day centres get fully involved in this, helping them learn new skills and take responsibility for tasks.
Local businesses, families and the rest of the community kindly donate games and prizes for the event too. The ambulance service has also provided a bouncy castle in the past.
The big day!
The gala takes place in the shared garden space next to BROCS. People in the community and the people we support work so hard to make it a fun-filled day.
Everybody gets to enjoy the outdoors, lovely weather (usually), games and food as well as talking to lots of people. It allows the wider community to learn about what autism is whilst having fun.
Gail commented: “When people come to this gala, they are able take away knowledge about autism and the support provided by us.”
She added: “On the day, little kids see autistic people serving them at a table or helping them with games. This helps build an understanding of autistic people and some of their characteristics. For example, some of the people we support may have an autism-related trait, such as, as when they make specific noises. It’s great for the children to experience this and see everyone carries on as normal and suddenly, it’s not strange anymore.”
Educating people about autism like this is a great way of breaking down barriers.
Changing people’s perceptions around autism
We asked Gail how the gala has helped to educate people about autism.
“People think that autistic people don’t want to socialise – but they do, they just find it difficult to do so. Treating people equally is not about treating everyone the same. It’s about changing things so they can be involved. For example, if someone with autism is noise sensitive then give them headphones so that they can take part without distress.”
It’s an important message. Each autistic person copes with things in different ways – just as everyone else does – so it’s important we look at individual needs. That way, everyone can be included in a way they feel comfortable.
If everyone took the time to make little changes to help autistic people feel included, the world would be a slightly less scary and overwhelming place for autistic people.