“We need safe spaces like this to turn to, which are non-judgemental,” is how one parent described the haven they found when they discovered the A2ndvoice group, which offers support to Wandsworth parents and carers of autistic people.
When Venessa Bobb’s son was diagnosed with autism in 2008, she found there was a lack of understanding around the condition, so she started the group which has been growing ever since.
“I have found a greater need of support among the African, Caribbean and Asian communities following my own experience of seeking help for my son,” she said. “I particularly noticed a need for help among those with English as a second language, who felt they were being misunderstood.”
In the past 10 years the group has expanded and now offers a wide range of services including parent courses, workshops, play and learning activities, and events featuring leading experts on the condition.
We aim to raise awareness and understanding as this complex neurological condition can be overlooked”
Venessa says: “We aim to raise awareness and understanding as this complex neurological condition can be overlooked – and to recognise that autistic children become autistic adults.”
The group aims to reach diverse communities from areas in south west London with poorer health outcomes, in particular people aged over 65, parents of under 12s and people from African, Caribbean, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.
With funding from NHS South West London’s winter engagement programme, the group has run workshops with experts to develop understanding and share health information. Paul Issacs, author and national autism advocate, ran sessions on anxiety and some of the emotional issues autistic people face and Hannah Otoo spoke about parenting.
I don’t know where I’d be without finding all the friendship and support here.”
The group specialises in cultural awareness programmes. It also provides a safe space for young people to mix while benefiting from social support in surroundings that are sympathetic to their condition.
One member, Tom, said the group had been a lifeline through difficult times. “I don’t know where I’d be without finding all the friendship and support here.”
Another parent, Natalie, was full of praise for the group and welcomed the support for families with children in residential care.
“We have had many daily struggles and at times something had to give. Different ethnic groups in the community and voices were not getting heard,” Venessa added.