Hundreds of autistic people in Leeds get help from free service

A free autism service has released figures showing they provided support to 684 people in Leeds between April 2021 and March 2022.

By Tom Coates
Monday, 9th May 2022, 4:45 am

Leeds Autism AIM announced it has reached 358 new people and their manager Owen Walker believes the Covid-19 pandemic has played a role in people seeking a diagnosis.

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"Health inequalities were significant before the pandemic and the pandemic has made those worse for people. Most services either shut down or changed what they do and that had a huge effect on people.

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Finding acceptance: The Leeds Autism Support Service is helping people find their potential and get the help they need. (Pic: Simon Hulme)

"They didn't have the support networks they might have done before, so people have been isolated. Family, carers, friends, have been of huge support to people but as people are coming out of the pandemic, the situations they're in are often worse than they were before the pandemic.

"Again, that could be why we've seen so many more people over the last couple of years."

Information officer Luke Aylward added: "It meant a change in routine for many people. To help combat that, we created a series of self-advocacy tools That's had a few thousand downloads, it's been used by organisations such as NHS England.

"We put that together pretty quickly as a team and a few months in, we just started to run online groups. Isolation is a something many autistic people have experienced as a result of Covid restrictions."

Another potential reason for the rise in the number of people they have supported in recent years is their own growth, as the service has been boosted by funding which has enabled them do offer increased support.

They have also launched another branch, Yorkshire Autism AIM, which focuses on making mental health support accessible for autistic people.

Owen said: "We've doubled in size in terms of funding and staff over the last couple of years, so we are doing more than we did prior to the pandemic. We're more accessible now to people.

"We're able to meet more people and help people in more ways. It's probably both things - we're offering more and we're more accessible but more people are getting a diagnosis. We tend to aim for acceptance rather than awareness now."

There are nine members of the Leeds Autism AIM team, seven of which are autistic themselves.

Owen explained; "Autistic people often find it easier to communicate with other autistic people, obviously there's a lot of empathy there."

More information about Leeds Autism AIM can be accessed here.