Autistic residents at engagement meeting

Getting involved: residents are helping with a new autism strategy. Photograph: Healthwatch Hackney

A group of autistic Hackney residents has joined forces with the council and local health services to make the borough “more autism-friendly”.

Healthwatch Hackney is supporting the residents as they urge locals to help spread their message ahead of World Autism Acceptance Day on 2 April.

One member of the group said: “Autistic people face discrimination and bullying. Autism is not a mental illness but autistic people are at higher risk of mental ill health such as anxiety and depression often brought on from the frustration of not being accepted.”

The campaigners are developing a voluntary Hackney Autism Card which will help autistic people communicate their needs in different situations.

David Mery

Changing attitudes: David Mery wants other autistic residents to spread the word. Photograph: Healthwatch Hackney

David Mery, another autistic resident involved in the group, said: “There are simple changes organisations and people can make to improve the lives of autistic people. Celebrating differences, designing new services with autistics, tackling bullying, offering mentoring, improving the environment and staff attitudes can all help.”

The collective is currently working with the Hackney Autism Alliance to draft the borough’s first ever autism strategy.

David added: “Although the strategy will be for residents in City and Hackney, an autism-friendly Hackney will also benefit people who work here and visitors.”

Voluntary autism card prototype

Simple but effective: the group is working on a voluntary autism card. Photograph: Healthwatch Hackney

Healthwatch Hackney’s Amanda Eliot, whose son has autism, was full of praise for the residents. She said: “We have five great autistic representatives on the board who are already getting managers in Hackney to view autism constructively.”

Simon Galczynski, director of adult services in the borough, said: “Listening to people’s lived experience first-hand brings a real understanding of what a difference an autism-friendly Hackney would have on the lives of autistic residents and carers.

“Working together will help us to develop a strategy and action plan that reflects the needs of the people it is for.”

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