Aylesbury to become first ‘Autism-Friendly Town’ in UK

Autism project: Simon Stiel and Paulette Hunn
Autism project: Simon Stiel and Paulette Hunn

Aylesbury is set to become the first ‘Autism-Friendly Town’ in Britain.

The National Autistic Society is working with autism support worker, Paulette Hunn, to increase understanding of autism among businesses and services in the town.

Tom Purser, community campaigns manager at the National Autistic Society, said: “Paulette is helping us to make Aylesbury more accessible for autistic people. A little understanding and small changes to working practices could transform the lives of autistic people, allowing them to go to shops, hairdressers and pubs work in the way others take for granted.

“A number of different businesses are already involved but we want to work with even more and help them become autism friendly too.”

In the year-and-a-half since taking up the new role, Mrs Hunn, who was commissioned by local clinical commissioning groups and works in collaboration with Bucks County Council, has helped more than 90 autistic people, many of whom find it difficult to land a job.

She said: “I am very proud to be at the forefront of this work to help adults affected by autism. My job is to work with people post diagnosis and signpost these individuals to the different services that are available.

“My role is also very much about raising awareness among the community about how autism affects people, providing training to not only health and social care professionals but to community-facing services such as the police and the DWP so that they make the necessary reasonable adjustments and thereby provide an efficient service.”

She explained that many autistic people would be tremendous assets to businesses due to their reliability, honesty and attention to detail.

However, some experience extreme sensory difficulties, which make them very sensitive to smells or noises, while others have problems with social interaction.

“With reasonable adjustments, they could offer a lot to employers,” she said.

Mrs Hunn meets her clients in environments where they feel safe and secure, for instance at their local coffee shop. She also speaks to them via email or telephone.

University graduate Simon Stiel, 29, from Great Missenden, was first diagnosed with autism in December 2014, although he was suspected to have the condition since he was 13.

He is an aspiring journalist, who has been on a training course but has had no luck in finding a job despite countless applications.

Mr Stiel paid tribute to the support given by Mrs Hunn. “It certainly broadened my awareness of what help is out there.

“People like us can offer employers reliability, dedication and lateral creative thinking. I am not asking for special treatment – just to be given opportunities.”

Mike Appleyard, County Council Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing, said: “We are very grateful to Paulette for the work she is doing on behalf of us and the Clinical Commissioning Groups.

“It’s essential that we give this support to people with autism and encourage society to make the adjustments that will allow them to deal more easily with the day-to-day challenges they face.”