After a tremendous success in 2017, the National Autistic Society is proud to announce World Autism Awareness Week 2018, which will take place from 26 March to 2 April.
During this week, a number of organisations will be participating to both fundraise and promote autism awareness.
In the North East, a number of venues will be hosting autism-friendly events:
With the shopping centre owner intu - which runs Metrocentre and Eldon Square - it's asking shops and businesses to take simple steps for 60 minutes that can lead to a more autism-friendly world.
Manor Walks Shopping and Leisure in Cramlington, for instance, is taking part on Sunday, October 8 between 10am and 11am.
This means that during hour, it will be making the shopping centre more autism friendly - by dimming the lights, turning down music, stopping tannoy announcements and sharing information about autism with employees and the public.
More than 60 of its stores, such as ASDA, Sainsbury’s, The Works CeX, Betinni’s, M&S, TKMaxx and Costa Coffee, will be taking part. New Look and Claire’s Accessories will be opening an hour earlier exclusively for those on the autistic spectrum and their families.
And there will be a break-out space where families can chill out if shopping becomes too much. Check out more information on Manor Walks here.
Also on Sunday, Vue Cramlington will be hosting a special autism-friendly screening of the Jungle Bunch at 10.30am.
Check out others too as many venues across the North East are now autistic-friendly and hold special events, relaxed performances and screenings to make visits less stressful for the
Visitor centres / Museums
Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children’s Books in the Ouseburn, Newcastle, is well geared up for those with special needs.
Aware that hustle and bustle can be overwhelming for them, it aims to make life easier, offering - for instance - staff assistance and the loan of ear defenders during visits. These are available to borrow from reception.
On the first Saturday of every month, Seven Stories opens its doors an hour early between 9am to 10am to enable families with children who have special educational needs and disabilities to enjoy a visit without the usual crowds and at their own pace.
Families are invited to take part in a relaxed story time at 10am as part of its regular early bird programme. These sessions offer accessible ways to spark imagination and allow families to share stories together by experimenting with a variety of tactile props and sounds.
The early bird opening - which is free although there is an entrance charge to the centre - will ensure they can also enjoy a quieter visit to the Seven Stories Café where can explore food using all their senses.
Families are invited to call prior to their visit to discuss their needs. For further accessibility information, please click here.
Discovery Museum in Blandford Square, Newcastle, is hosting Especially For Me events throughout the year which offer dedicated hours and free museum admission for families facing developmental challenges.
The idea is to create an understanding environment where they can have easy access to museum exhibits and meet other families with similar needs. The events will include autism-friendly evenings; sensory afternoons and others earmarked for deaf and visually impaired children and toddlers.
They are free but check out the dates and pre-register here.
As you enter the museum you’ll come face to face with Turbinia. Charles Parsons’s 34-metre steam powered ship that was once the fastest ship in the world is an iconic part of the history of Tyneside. From there, you will be able to immerse yourself in the history of Newcastle and Tyneside told through permanent displays and temporary exhibitions over three floors focusing on the area’s maritime, scientific and technological importance to Britain and the rest of the world. The permanent galleries at Discovery Museum are Science Maze, Newcastle Story, Play Tyne, Tyneside Challenge, Destination Tyneside, Story of the Tyne, A Soldier’s Life and Working Lives.
Visitors who are on the autistic spectrum might find the museum’s Visual Story helpful as they can use it to prepare their visit in advance. The museum also has an online guide with a street view of the different floors in the museum which you can use to explore the museum before a visit. This could help in cases where new environments creates anxiety.
Once there, there are resources to help some children with additional needs cope with the busy environment. If you would like to borrow these, let a member of staff know when you are making a booking via one of the workshop links or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
There is lots to see and do at the Centre for Life from its Brain Zone to the Planetarium and from the 4D Motion Ride to an Experiment Zone.
There are also regularly-changing exhibitions - the current ones are Brick History and North East LEGO® Landmarks which run until May 14.
Before planning a visit to the Centre for Life with your family, you can prepare for it in advance by downloading its Visual Story here.
This is an easy–to-understand guide to the Science Centre to help familiarise visitors who are on the autistic spectrum, and their friends/family. It’s full of useful information and images, and is designed for visitors who may need a little additional support. The visual story will let you know what to expect on a visit and help you make the most of your time there.
Cinema / Theatre
As cinemas are often places that are not easily accessible for families affected by autism, autism-friendly screenings (AFS) aim to make families feel welcome, comfortable and relaxed in an environment that can otherwise seem overwhelming.
Families are able to enjoy a film in an environment designed for people on the autism spectrum, their friends and carers. During the film, low lights are left on inside the auditorium, the volume of the soundtrack is reduced and there should not be any trailers.
Cinema goers are free to move around, make a noise or take a break during the film if they need to.
Odeon cinemas host specially adapted Autism Friendly Screenings of new releases one Sunday each month at 10.15am.
This was the first cinema chain to partner with Dimensions (a not for profit organisation providing support services for people with learning disabilities) to offer nationwide AFSs and i now more than 90 Odeon cinemas throughout the UK and Ireland participate every month.
The special performances have subtle changes to the cinema environment which mean that people who have sensory difficulties have a more positive experience than they would in a traditional cinema setting. Changes include lights being kept on at a low level; lower than usual sound levels; no trailers or advertisements - just the film; and an allowance for increased levels of movement and noise.
Tickets for the latest releases may come with a small charge, on top of the normal ticket price.
Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle holds regular sensory friendly screenings for people with autism, learning disabilities and/or additional needs and their families.
Access Cinema is open to all and presents films for people who prefer to see a film in a low sensory environment. It runs fortnightly on Sundays at 10:30am.
Access Cinema offers family films with the sound turned down a touch and the lights up a little. There won’t be any adverts or trailers to sit through and the cinema team will be on hand throughout the screening if any help is needed.
The cinema also has a chill-out space handy if anyone needs to take a break, and it's ok to move around or make a bit of noise. Where possible the screenings also feature subtitles.
Sunderland AFC was the first Premier League club to open a sensory room for autistic fans and others with similar sensory difficulties.
The Nathan Shippey Sensory Room is named after the young supporter who inspired it. Nathan's father contacted the club after he struggled to deal with the crowd noise and had to leave games early despite trying out a number of areas in the stadium.
The room that developed from that discussion means that autistic fans who want to watch a match live but cannot cope with the usual crowd noise can now watch the action from inside a sensory room geared up for their needs.
The room has space for three fans at a time, plus a parent or carer for each, and has proved hugely popular in its use by both adults and children. The hope now is to have the idea rolled out nationwide and even into other sports.
To find out more, click here.
Cramlington's new trampoline and softplay centre declares itself ‘the ultimate North East trampolining experience’ and boasts interconnected trampolines, angled walls, roll-over platforms, slamdunk basketball nets, trick airbags, foam pits, battle-beams, cardio wall, Ninja area and party rooms.
Toddlers can also get in on the action too as there is a soft play area for under fives to enjoy.
It launched a weekly autism-friendly session, from 9am-9.45am on Saturdays, dedicated to children and adults on the autistic spectrum.
Having worked with Cramlington charity Autism Northumberland to fully-train all its staff, it also launched a session for Autism Northumberland members.