A vital service for people with autism in Swindon has been saved from the threat of closure by a £20,000 cash injection.
DASH – Discovering Autism Spectrum Happiness – has been awarded the grant from the Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund.
The fund has so far raised more than £1.1m and distributed £850,000 to 200 groups to help them cope with fallout from the pandemic.
DASH, based at Sanford House in Sanford Street, was forced to switch its Autism Matters information and advice service from a drop-in programme to one providing help by telephone, email or Zoom.
However, manager Gemma Owens said funding for the service, which has three experienced advisors now working from home, came to an end in the middle of the pandemic.
“People that were offering grants put them on hold and the majority of grants you could access were emergency covid funds,” she said.
“There was a real risk that we would not have been able carry on offering our advice service so without this grant we would have found it very difficult to continue.”
DASH advisors provide help and guidance on everything from housing and employment to relationships, benefits and training but, said Miss Owens, the biggest topic over the last six months has been mental health.
“The pandemic has affected mental health generally but for our client group it has been another layer of difficulty. For people who thrive on routine and things being predictable it has been really difficult and distressing,” she said.
“For a group of people who like things to be exact, it has been very hard where rules around isolating and keeping distance have been a little bit confusing. Things like queuing have been distressing for them. The pandemic has been very tough for people with autism - it has been really quite isolating.”
The service offers advice to about 150 people a month. In recent weeks, inquiries have begun to show more clients are concerned about welfare and housing.
Miss Owens said: “Some of it is because things are slowly going back to normal and some of the welfare benefit cases that were being looked at had maybe been put on hold.
“Potentially as more people lose jobs, we will get more inquiries from people whose circumstances are changing.”
Clients are referred by at diagnosis by GPs or via the DASH website if they move into the area. There are also referrals by social workers and from groups it shares its Sanford House base with, such as Mind, CAB or Healthwatch.
Miss Owens said DASH’s service was more effective for people with autism because of the training its advisors received.
She added: “We are one of the only services in Swindon for adults with autism that does what we do. For some people with autism, knowing who to contact when they have a problem is difficult or just calling someone like the council is quite daunting.
“But here, where they can talk to someone who knows them, or at least understands their condition, it is much easier.
"As they get to know our advisors it is so much more reassuring for them to call or email about a form they don’t understand or an issue they need help with.”
DASH also runs a range of social groups for people with autism, although because of the pandemic many of them have gone online. Its website is dashswindon.com
Information about the Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Fund can be found at wiltshirecf.org.uk