Cornwall set to have more autism friendly leisure centres
Leisure centres in Cornwall can now assess whether they are autism friendly and how they can improve to receive an autism friendly status.
The Autism Spectrum Team at Cornwall Council has teamed up with Cornwall Sports Partnership to offer training about autism spectrum conditions for sports coaches and activity leaders. This includes information and principles to have in mind when including people with autism.
Communication passports have also been created to make access to leisure centres easier for young people with autism.
The passports are aimed at helping any member of staff who is going to be interacting with the child - such as sports coaches, lifeguards and receptionists, to understand more about the person with autism, and how best to help them enjoy the activities. They provide information on the young person's daily life, their likes and dislikes, and how best to support them.
Councillor Sally Hawken, Portfolio Holder for Children and Wellbeing said: "A huge amount of good work is going on in Cornwall to improve the lives of young people with autism, and we have already received positive feedback from independent sports and leisure providers in Cornwall.
"Public places can create a lot of anxiety for people with autism, as they may struggle with social interaction, noise and a different environment. They may have sensory differences, and the experience of going to a leisure centre could prove to be hard, and prevent people going out as a family or enjoying the facilities.
"It is very important that our community and leisure facilities are accessible for all to enjoy, as this is important for our health and wellbeing."
Leisure centres in Bodmin and St Austell are leading the way by undertaking autism awareness training for all of their staff starting in December.
The idea came as a result of a strategy to make Cornwall more autism friendly thanks to a partnership led by Cornwall Council.
In 2016, Cornwall's Children and Young People's Autism Strategy identified several priorities that needed improvement for young people and their families, which included leisure services and education.
Cornwall Council, along with Cornwall Sports Partnership, the Dreadnought Aspires Project, and GLL - a charitable social enterprise which manages Cornwall's leisure centres, formed a working group to look at ways to make community and leisure services more accessible to people with autism.
As a result, there is now an Autism Spectrum section on the Get Active Cornwall website, which contains both information for providers of sport and leisure activities, and for parents and young people with autism. Parents and carers can also search for 'autism friendly' centres via the website.
Another of the priorities for the strategy centred round education. Some children had to move schools as a result of bullying, and some teachers lacked knowledge and understanding of the needs of children with autism.
Cornwall Council's Autism Spectrum Team (AST) is delivering a range of activities to support schools to meet the needs of pupils with autism.
To improve knowledge and understanding in education, Cornwall Council's Autism Spectrum Team offers an Autism and Social Communication Friendly School Package free to all mainstream secondary schools. Sixty percent of schools have signed up to complete the package by the end of the academic year 2018/19.
By engaging with this package schools have the opportunity to work closely with an Autism Advisor to develop their provision. St Ives School is the first secondary school to complete this process and received their Autism and Social Communication Friendly School certificate last week from Jane Black, Service Director, Education and Early Years.