Could Liverpool become the world’s first truly autism-friendly city?
Everton FC and ten Lifestyles fitness centres join a growing list of Autism Champions
Charity Autism Together and community business Autism Adventures UK have joined forces on a mission to turn Liverpool into the world’s first truly autism-friendly city.
The project is backed by Connect to Autism, a Department of Health-funded scheme aimed at increasing awareness and understanding of autism right across the UK. It also has the support of Liverpool’s Chamber of Commerce.
According to Autism Together and Autism Adventures, an autism-friendly city should be one where those with the condition are able to:
- Travel on public transport
- Shop for food and clothes
- Take part in sports and leisure activities
- Visit cultural institutions
- Visit tourist attractions
- Eat in restaurants
- Be supported appropriately by healthcare and emergency services
Liverpool John Lennon Airport and the Liverpool Museums Group have already committed to becoming Autism Champions under the scheme. The latest organisations to sign up are Everton FC and Liverpool City Council’s ten Lifestyles fitness centres in the city.
Chief executive of Autism Together, Robin Bush, said, “We’re incredibly ambitious for Liverpool. What we’re seeking to do isn’t easy and won’t happen overnight, but we must achieve this for our loved ones with autism who just want to enjoy the same day-to-day lives as the rest of us. We’re deeply grateful to our Autism Champions and want to encourage other Liverpool businesses to join this movement.”
Founder of Autism Adventures, Julie Simpson, said, “The reason I want to do something is I want my son Joe, who is 12, to have somewhere to play, eat or shop. I have had everything said by people over the years about Joe. Someone told me once that he needed a good smack. The only way to change people’s perception is by educating them and raising awareness of the condition.
“It’s so rewarding seeing business being open to the concept of being autism friendly. The response has been amazing. The thing that always drives me forward to do more is the thought I won’t always be here to have Joe’s back. It’s my job as his mum to do all I can to leave a world that is ready for him. My motto is that I wouldn’t change my son for the world but I will change the world for my son.”
To become an Autism Champion, an organisation makes a public commitment to train their staff in autism awareness. This includes how to recognise the signs that someone may have autism and how to handle challenging behaviour. Champions are also taught about the different ways people with autism can choose to communicate. For example, if someone is non-verbal, they may communicate via a voice app on an iPad.
Champions will also be encouraged to make small adjustments to their premises to improve access to those with autism: they may advertise a quiet space, for people experiencing anxiety, or agree to clearer signage or less glaring lighting.
Liverpool’s Assistant Mayor and Cabinet Member responsible for Leisure, Councillor Wendy Simon, said: “This is a fantastic project and I’m delighted our Lifestyles Centres are playing a key role in Liverpool’s drive to be autism-friendly city in every aspect.
“Our fitness centres attract people from a whole host of diverse backgrounds, many with specific needs, and we want to make sure their Lifestyles experience is a positive one, encouraging them to keep active and continue to make healthy choices in life.”
There are around 700,000 people in the UK with autism and many of them are excluded from their own communities through a lack of understanding. Whereas only 11 per cent of the general population report feeling lonely, a survey by the National Autistic Society found that 41% of adults with autism feel lonely and left out.
Julie Simpson, Founder of Autism Adventures
“The reason I want to do something is I want my son Joe, who is 12, to have somewhere to play, eat or shop. I have had everything said by people over the years about Joe. Someone told me once that he needed a good smack. The only way to change people’s perception is by educating them and raising awareness of the condition.”