Flying the flag for autism awareness

Published: Thursday 18 June 2020

ARCH coordinator Ramon Hutchingson holds the Autism Pride flag with a service user and their child outside the council HQ

A global awareness day for autism has been celebrated with a flag raising ceremony in South Lanarkshire.

And the Coordinator of a service which provides support for people with autism has described how the day has a special resonance locally.

Today, June 18, organisations from across the globe celebrate Autistic Pride with a variety of events. The purpose is to recognise the diversity of autistic people and the infinite possibilities and variations within the autistic community, represented by the Autistic Pride rainbow symbol.

This morning, Ramon Hutchingson, of South Lanarkshire Health and Social Care Partnership’s Autism Resources Coordination Hub (ARCH), hoisted the Autistic Pride flag at South Lanarkshire Council Headquarters. Ramon was accompanied by Carolanne Fallone, and her two sons, Marco and Leo, who are both living with autism.

Ramon said: “Being autistic does not mean you have an illness or disease. It means your brain works in a different way from other people. We are committed to shifting attitudes towards acceptance and the realisation that autism is a difference rather than a disability."

“During the Covid-19 pandemic, the strength of our autism community has shone through.”

Since its inception in 2016, ARCH has been focussed on facilitating the development of autism services in South Lanarkshire communities - many of which are delivered by communities themselves - alongside partners in the statutory, private and third sectors.

During lockdown, and in the absence of face-to-face meetings and contacts, various support networks, including regular parent carer support groups, have continued to be held digitally. Well-established community support on social media – instigated by ARCH – has also proved valuable to parents supporting autistic children during lockdown.

Ramon added: “We’ve always been driven by listening and being informed by genuine engagement. From that grassroots, bottom-up feedback we’ve helped consolidate natural links between people with shared experiences of autism, providing support when needed.

“I know from general feedback these networks and this community has not only been a lifeline for many, but it’s also blossomed in tough times.

“This flag and Autistic Pride Day, for us, represents that strength and diversity.”

Val de Souza, Chief Officer of South Lanarkshire Health and Social Care Partnership, explained: “Our vision is working together to improve health and wellbeing in the community – with the community.

“Much of our work is about nurturing strength and building on community resource and support. That begins at grassroots level and the work of ARCH – and this flag –  exemplifies that sentiment.”

Lifeline in tough times

Ramon was joined by local Mum Carolanne Fallone, and her two sons, Marco and Leo, who are autistic.

Carolanne explained how the support of ARCH has been vital, especially in lockdown.

She said: “Being able to stay connected digitally during the pandemic has given our autism families an opportunity to share our frustrations, worries and achievements in a positive peer environment. This support network has been vital for my mental health as well as a family.

“ARCH Hub has remained a vital source of information, support and encouragement for me as well as so many parents and individuals in our autism community.”

Carolanne added: “I’ve been accessing ARCH since 2016 and the feeling of safety and belonging it brings has given me the confidence to help others. This is truly upskilling our South Lanarkshire Autism community to define its own support needs, as well as work together with all agencies to deliver them. I really think it reduces greater demands on services by avoiding crisis situations.”

How do I access ARCH?

All you need to be is a South Lanarkshire resident who is affected by autism, either directly as a parent carer or sibling. You can access the ARCH service simply phoning 0344 225 1111.