UK youth autism charity, Ambitious about Autism has launched the UK’s first online platform designed for young people with autism. The national charity is offering this platform to people aged 16 to 25, to provide a safe space, peer support sessions and a place to share their experiences. The charity hopes this will address some of the demand for mental health support that specialist autism services have seen since the start of the pandemic.
The platform, called the Ambitious Youth Network, has been designed as a safe, moderated space that can help young autistic people to understand their identity whilst also creating connections with like-minded people, helping them to feel less isolated and lonely.
Those who become part of the Ambitious Youth Network will be given the chance to take part in peer support sessions, share their experiences, discuss volunteering, work experience and employment opportunities, as well as being given a space to work as a community and campaign for change.
The online platform has evolved from Ambitious about Autism’s award-winning Youth Council
The Youth Council comprised of fifteen dynamic, young autistic volunteers who had themselves led impactful and award-winning campaigns on issues such as mental health problems faced by autistic people in the Know Your Normal campaign. The work of the Youth Council at Ambitious about Autism gained a lot of traction and eventually led to demand for young people wanting to get involved with the charity soaring during the pandemic.
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Numbers of people registering with the charity for support increased from 50 before the pandemic, to 400
A young autistic person, who has become a part of the network has said:
“Before I joined, I struggled to take part in group activities and was highly anxious to do so, now I feel much more confident and self-assured in a range of different situations. The network has had a very positive impact on my life because it has given me a strong sense of belonging, enjoyment and I don't feel as isolated or lonely anymore”
Speaking to how the online community can help people to increase their understanding of their identity another person added:
“I've finally begun to understand my autism, and that has made me understand who I am, and develop my identity. I have found some friends too, and I feel I know what my interests are.”
Chief Executive of Ambitious about Autism has said: “The pandemic left many autistic young people feeling more isolated and alone than ever before.”
“We knew we had to take action and provide a space where more autistic young people can have their voice heard.”
“With the launch of our new online platform we will be able to connect an ever-growing group of autistic young people from across the UK, helping them build supportive friendships and work together to create a more inclusive society.”
The online platform has ambitious aims, as the name of the charity suggests, and is hoping to support 5,000 new autistic young people across the UK over the next three years.
A study published last year in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry found that there has been more than a 20-fold increase in autism diagnoses over the last two decades. Researchers from the University of Exeter found that this was likely due to more women and girls being diagnosed, a fact that stands at odds with outdated notions of autism being more common among boys and men.
As referrals for autism spectrum disorders increase year on year, many people will be faced with exceedingly long wait times for their initial assessment. Uncertainty about your identity or feeling as though you are being invalidated can increase feelings of isolation and loneliness in people with autism.
This is why the work being done by charities such as Ambitious about Autism is essential, specialist services that can create community support will be increasingly crucial, as the strain on our NHS continues.