Group aims to raise awareness of autism across Waveney

An autism awareness event was held in Lowestoft town centre. PICTURE: Joe Randlesome

An autism awareness event was held in Lowestoft town centre. PICTURE: Joe Randlesome - Credit: Archant

A voluntary group is aiming to raise awareness about autism so more people can understand how it affects families and individuals.

Members of the Lowestoft and North Suffolk Branch of the National Autistic Society (NAS) were in the town centre last weekend to also encourage businesses to become more autism-friendly.

Over recent months the society has launched its Too Much Information campaign, which found that a lack of public understanding of autism is leaving autistic people and their families socially isolated.

Autism is a life-long, developmental disability which affects how a person communicates and relates to other people, as well as how they experience the world around them.

People with autism, along with their parents and carers, can get help, access services, support each other and meet people in similar situations.

Clare Kingaby-Lewis, branch chairman, said: 'It is vital that we raise awareness and get more understanding and empathy, along with a little less judgement.

'When you don't live with autism, it is very difficult to actually understand.

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'Bright lights, loud music and places that are hot are just a few of the things that can potentially lead to a person on the autistic spectrum feeling overwhelmed.

'People are sadly very judgemental and sometimes individuals and families are even asked to leave establishments.'

The NAS has recently launched its Autism Friendly Award for shops and services which demonstrate an understanding of autism and satisfy five award criteria.

The event in the town centre last Saturday was also billed as a day of action, where the group obtained 300 signatures for a petition to hand to the British Retail Consortium specifically targeted at businesses.

Mrs Kingaby-Lewis added: 'We want businesses to know how important a little understanding is to autistic customers.

'It could be the difference between staying at home or actually going out.'

Ten-year-old Samuel, who is on the autistic spectrum, said: 'Sometimes it is strange and sometimes it's okay.

'People think we are weird. We aren't weird - we are autistic.'

Lisa Moon, of Tonning Street, regularly attends the branch events. Her 10-year-old son Archie has autism.

'There needs to be more understanding because people look at kids with autism and think they are naughty.

'It would be nice to feel that you are not getting stared at when you are out.'

Lowestoft mayor Nick Webb, who supported the event, added: 'I have learnt so much about autism and how it affects people.

'Anything we can do to raise awareness can only be a good thing.'

The event was also supported by Waveney MP Peter Aldous , Suffolk County Council Leader Colin Noble and Waveney District Council chairman Mark Bee.

For more information, email lowestoftnorthsuffolk@nas.org.uk

Alternatively call 07798 882583 or visit www.autism.org.uk

How do you think Lowestoft can become more autism-friendly? Write, giving your full contact details, to: Journal Postbox, 147 London Road North, Lowestoft NR32 1NB or email andrew.papworth@archant.co.uk

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