The National Autistic Society’s Helen Allison School in Meopham hosted an event last week (23 February) to raise awareness of autism, and the benefits autistic people can bring to businesses, among the community.

It was attended by around 50 parents, friends and representatives or local businesses, including Eija Burrell and Cllr John Burrell, Mayor and Mayoress of Dartford, and Cllr Councillor Greta Goatley, Mayor of Gravesham Greta Goatley. Also in attendance wasJeremy Kite, Leader of Dartford Borough council, Jonathon Hawkes Shadow Leader, Cllr Avtar Sandhu MBE and Cllr Councillor Mandy Garford.

They heard a series of presentations about the potential of autistic people and learnt about the National Autistic Society’s recent employment campaign, which included a survey suggesting that just 16% of autistic adults are in full-time paid work.

Virtual Reality at the NAS eventGuests also tried out the charity’s virtual reality experience, which aims to show the public what it might be like to be autistic and experience ‘too much information’. There was also an opportunity to speak with local businesses about employing autistic people and a panel of autistic adults who answered questions about their experiences.

The NAS Helen Allison School opened in 1968 and is recognised by Ofsted as Outstanding in Education and Care. It currently provides primary, secondary and post-16 support to over 70 young people on the autism spectrum. The school is spread over three sites and offers both day and residential services.

More than 1 in 100 people are on the autism spectrum, including an estimated 120,000 school-aged children in England. This means that someone sees, hears and feels the world in a different, often more intense way. But autism affects each person differently and can make school life very challenging. For instance, some children are so sensitive to light or sound that an overhead light or humming computer can be physically painful and make it almost impossible to follow a lesson. For others, a small change to the day’s schedule, like the school bus turning up late or a sudden change to the seating plan, can feel like the end of the world.

This can make finding a job difficult. But the National Autistic Society says that many of these difficulties can be overcome when employers understand autism and make small adjustments to the interview process and workplace.

Some children on the autism spectrum are able to excel in mainstream schools while others require extensive support in specialist settings, like the NAS Helen Allison School.

Susan Conway, Principal of NAS Helen Allison School, said: “It was wonderful to see so many people come to learn about autism and the potential of our students. And I’m grateful to Tim Cook, our Family Liaison Officer, and other colleagues within our charity for organising this.

“People on the autism spectrum have got so much to offer and can have strengths such as tenacity and thinking differently and I’m proud we could share this message.

“With a little understanding and small adjustments to the workplace, people on the autism spectrum can be a real asset to businesses across the UK.”