Charity adapts to lockdown to support people with autism

A FRODSHAM based charity has quickly adapted to provide help and support during the dramatic change to normal life caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, which is particularly hard to deal with for people with autism.

Both children and adults who are on the autism spectrum rely on a consistent structure and predictability, and the loss of a normal routine can lead not just to uncertainty but also potential problems with mental health.
Cheshire Autism Practical Support – ChAPS for short – is a thriving charity which had, prior to the lockdown, offered a range of activities to people across the county, run by a dedicated team of staff and volunteers.
Those activities are still in place, but are now very different, based around online learning resources like Google Classroom and continuing to encourage interaction via platforms such as Zoom.
“As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and social distancing measures, we reluctantly had to suspend all face-to-face activities from the middle of March,” says ChAPS Business Manager Cindy Seiler.
“Autistic people struggle to function without structure and predictability, and all of us at ChAPS recognised the potential for significant harm to mental health.
“We quickly diverted focus and resources to families remotely, using virtual platforms and social media, and within a week ChAPS staff had a timetable available of support activities and sources of information.
“This ensured that our children and adults felt supported, and were able to re-establish the fixed and predictable routines that they needed.”
Specialist teachers Emma, Diane and Claire have been among those adapting their methods in these challenging and unprecedented times.
Emma has been leading ‘sensory circuits’ sessions on You Tube, a gentle exercise programme which addresses the sensory issues faced by people with autism, aiming to help them increase their wellbeing and focus.

Diane has delivered mindfulness sessions via Zoom to children aged between six and 12, has helped stay in touch with the youth club members (aged 11-17) and also run sessions for parents to help them deal with the current spell in isolation.
Claire has also made use of technology to continue to ensure ChAPS are providing a service, including video tutorials and step-by-step slideshows and covering a range of activities including cooking, reading, games, painting and ‘chat and chill’.
“Making ChAPS accessible remotely has been a really exciting and interesting challenge,” says Emma.
“We’ve created video lessons on a range of subjects including anxiety management, anger management and social skills and have kept our families engaged and positive with a daily photograph theme and fun events such as a quiz.
“A daily online meet-up with adults has evolved into a really supportive peer group where ‘virtual’ friendships have been made and a post-coronavirus meet-up has been requested which will be lovely for them all to meet in person.”
The closed Facebook group run by ChAPS remains a hugely popular resource, and the charity has also adapted its Autism Post Diagnostic Parent Training course, previously delivered across various locations in Cheshire, to be accessed via webinars.
“Covid-19, social distancing and lockdown will not prevent us from using our considerable expertise to maintain our mission, to enable individuals on the autism spectrum and their families to achieve their potential through support, education and advice,” says ChAPS Managing Director Jo Garner.
“We are immensely proud of our team who have researched, innovated, shared expertise and worked incredibly hard to make a difficult and frightening situation easier for our families.”

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Pictures show Claire’s daughters Margo, right, and Cecile, making bird feeders and Emma leading one of the virtual sessions on You Tube.

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