Wakefield, Yorkshire, UK – Many teenagers with Autism and Asperger’s came to visit the Artists of Autism Exhibition that took place in in West Yorkshire this summer, Autism Daily Newscast reported on the event here. This event was an autism awareness event organised by myself and my partner Craig. It was clear that these young people needed somewhere to go as well as some encouragement. Many of these individuals were depressed and down on themselves for being different and for having this diagnosis of being on the spectrum, it was like it was a big weight hung round their neck, dragging them down, stopping them from being like the rest of society and they hated it, hated themselves for being different.
Many referred to themselves as ‘retards’ as they hung their heads and this really got to me. I could relate, I am on the spectrum and I hate the thought of anyone feeling close to the depths of depression as I have, as a result mainly of other peoples misunderstandings and ridicules.
The exhibition ran for 2 months and in this time different teenagers would visit, all with the same negativity and sadness about their diagnosis. I am 35 and lucky to be of the mindset that I am different but not less of a person, I usually view my diagnosis as a blessing rather than a curse, and I approach Autism with a positivity as often as I can. This helps me cope and achieve to my full potential, and like myself. I can relate to not feeling like I fit in and struggle to maintain friendships. With all of this in mind, I knew some kind of youth group that was aimed at their needs would be ideal, a way that I could show them that they have worth, to encourage them and support them with life as well as highlighting to them that they are not what the bullies say. The diagnosis is not the end of the world and unlike what they believe, they can achieve great things!
With no idea of what was needed or where to start, we began having weekly meetings using the exhibition venue. Everyone seemed to get out of it what I was hoping for, I would plan activities like a games night and play clips from inspirational people with Autism/Aspergers to encourage them and remind them that they are not alone and not less! When the exhibition came to a close we had to start running the youth group from our living room as all the venues I contacted wanted £20 an hour and we were having 2-3 hours per week, I was not prepared to charge for the group as this would have meant that people missed out.
We had dvd and pizza nights, went bowling, camping, coast trips, we had a Halloween party, board games evening, an evening of tie-dying to sell at an up and coming craft fair to raise funds to do more activities. Then mine and Craig s money ran out, but I was determined that this wouldn’t stop us! We had no knowledge of how to apply for funding or where to go to find it. A few months ago we didn’t know what policies we needed or why we needed them, but now we have all the polices set up and we have been offered an amazing venue at Sesku Academy where we have been put forward for lots of various training to help us support everyone to the best of our ability. They have also helped us to apply for funding in the future.
Sesku are supporting us with what we need and how to go about it. We have use of a sports hall, quiet room, sensory room, pool table, games consoles, kitchen, outdoor BBQ space, outdoor activities space, all within a safe and fantastic venue, providing us with an opportunity to grow and reach more young people.
Mandy Craven from Leeds ABC group advised us on the policies etc and her help was much appreciated.
We also offer support between meetings via internet and telephone.
Our members named the Youth Group Fusion.
We are currently creating a website and are planning a big opening in the new year with The Mayor of Wakefield officially opening the Youth Group.
Below are some quotes from some members of Fusion.
“Some members quotes: “Fusion is a great way to meet new people. No one will judge you or make fun of you. If you are having a bad day you can go to fusion and feel loads better or even sit quiet if you don’t feel like communicating and no one will pester you 🙂 meeting people who have some of the same problems as me has been a great confidence boost because I don’t feel alone. Fusion is Awsome! “
“It is good to be with friends to chill out and have a laugh. It has a good age range and also people my age that all get on with each other and understand each other.”
“I started Fusion at the very beginning because there was and still is nothing else suitable for me. The issue with autism is we are all so similar yet different, so it’s difficult for any AS group to cater for everyone. The problem with most groups is that they adapt the group for one extreme (such as those who don’t communicate well) or for the other (who, let’s say, have profound learning difficulties, maybe not even autism at all). A common issue with youth groups that are adapted for those with learning difficulties is that it doesn’t suit a lot of people like me, because we can’t always make friends with those that have these issues. It’s all well and good for those that do “fit”, but what about those that don’t? Those that can’t attend a normal youth club because they get bullied, or those that can’t attend a special youth club because they don’t make friends. That’s where Fusion comes in. Fusion is the ideal place for those who want to make friends and who want to socialise. It’s not a typical youth group. It’s so much more. It’s a platform for those on the spectrum to socialise, to make friends, and really to live their lives in a way that so many other people live, which is what I and so many people like me want to do. One of my mottos is you can’t fit a round peg in a square hole, so why try? Let us be us.”
There is a Facebook Group : Fusion and they can be found on twitter
The Fusion Youth Group website can be found here
About Karen McGuire
Karen McGuire 35 graduated from Sheffield College, ‘A Centre of Excellence in Design Education’, in 1999 as a fully qualified Graphic Designer. Today she runs her own photography business So Shoot Me Photography and has worked with Autism campaigner, Anna Kennedy OBE for her charity Anna Kennedy Online as their Events Photographer and Autism Advocate. Karen was diagnosed with autism at the age of 30.
Karen McGuire (known to those on Facebook as Yorkshire Pudding) can be found on her Facebook page here