Birmingham autism project is close to Sharon’s heart

The champion of a new scheme to boost services for autistic people in Birmingham and Solihull has a unique insight into the sort of help that is needed.

Sharon Brown is the projects co-ordinator for All-Age Autism, a £1million programme to fund projects which support autistic children and adults and their families.

The mum of three sons and a daughter, from Birmingham, is very aware of the need for such support. Her eldest son has a diagnosis of autism, along with moderate to severe learning difficulties, and her other two sons display autistic traits.

Sharon works for employment and training charity Landau, which is leading the All-Age Autism project in partnership with Birmingham and Solihull Integrated Care Board (ICB), with funding from NHS England.

She said she would have welcomed more tailored services to help the family manage her son’s needs and is looking forward to playing a part in funding more services and activities that provide wider support.

She said: “In regards to this programme, it would be nice to see services or activities that look to individual needs and peel away those layers of a family, if it’s necessary.

“It’s not always the run of the mill support that each family needs – and it will be different for each family.”

She said she was alerted to her son’s needs because her own siblings work with disabled children and spotted the signs. She said: “Because I was young, he was my first child, I just thought this was part and parcel of being a parent. I was naïve to some of the lack of support in certain areas and just looked at other ways to plug the gap.

“Coming from a parent’s perspective, we’ve never been offered respite care, for example. Because I’m married with a husband, the services that did interact with us would say, “Oh well, there’s two of you.” Looking back, I would have liked respite care, and respite without having to feel guilty.

“I think support needs to be tailored to the individual circumstances, the individual family, the individual parent because there is a multiple of needs.

“In terms of my son becoming an adult, we haven’t had any support. But he could do with respite care, again, not to get away from us but to have his own space and do his own things.

At the moment we do things as a family, so you’re trying to pick which parts to suit the other siblings, which doesn’t always work out.

“The other siblings also need time to focus on themselves. We’re having to try to include my son into what they want to do and sometimes it goes all upside down. We spend more time trying to agree to disagree!”

Sharon’s children are now aged from 29 down to 12 and still live in the family home. She said her personal “ideal” support service would be some sort of independent listening service where she could unload some of the stress.

She said: “It would be some sort of service where you can just pick up the phone, a bit like the Samaritans, and you can just offload. The assumption is that you can offload to your husband. Actually, it’s not the same. His pressures are different to my pressures, which are different from my daughter’s pressures.

“As a family, there are multiple support needs.”

Sharon said there had been a good response to the All-Age Autism programme and early applications were now being assessed. Providers in the Birmingham and Solihull areas are invited to apply for grants of between £5,000 and £20,000 for projects which would help autistic people.

Sharon added: “It can be any group, voluntary sector or private sector. It can be literally anyone who has a programme or a service that is not already being provided or there is not already funding out there.”

As part of the programme, Landau, has developed a new self-help service directory to make it easier for autistic people, their parents, families and carers to understand what services exist in the Birmingham and Solihull area and how they can gain access to them.

Sonia Roberts, CEO of Landau, which has its headquarters in Shropshire, said autistic people suffered health inequalities which meant they were likely to die on average 16 years earlier than the general population, and the All-Age Autism project aimed to rebalance those health issues while also supporting families and carers.

She said: “This scheme will improve and increase the number of integrated community support services on offer to autistic people both children and adults, as well as their parents, siblings, wider family members and carers.

“The project fund has the potential to make a huge difference across Birmingham and Solihull and we would encourage anyone who provides a service or activity for the autism community to apply for a grant.”

Organisations that run autism services in Birmingham or Solihull that are interested in finding out more about the scheme or applying for grant funding can visit www.allageautism.co.uk or email aaa@landau.co.uk

The dedicated service directory, co-produced with Experts by Experience, has gone live through a soft launch and groups, organisations and businesses interested in being listed can also email aaa@landau.co.uk for further information.

Landau has been helping people with learning disabilities, including those with autism, into sustainable employment for the last 27 years.

Annually, it helps in the region of 2,000 vulnerable individuals back into the workplace or into training schemes through its specialist support.

In 2021 it was awarded the prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise for its work in Promoting Opportunity (through social mobility).