Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. People with autism have challenges with how they make sense of the world around them. It is estimated to affect about 1 in every 100 people in the UK.

SPACE4AUTISM was set up by parents of children with Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC) in 2005 as a response to the lack of support and services. They currently have 12 staff and 25 volunteers who deliver a wide range of clubs, activities, and services for children, young people and adults with ASC and their families.

To add to their growing offer, SPACE4AUTISM looked to add Autism Movement Therapy to their menu of activities. Autism Movement Therapy is an inter-hemispheric sensory integration technique, which incorporates movement and music in collaboration with Positive Behaviour Support strategies to support people with ASC to met their speech and language, health and fitness, social and academic goals. SPACE4AUTISM applied for help with Active Cheshire through the Active Minds investment to get the programme up and running. The investment aimed to find projects that used physical activity as a tool to prevent and alleviate mental health-related illnesses or conditions.

In May, Elly and Nont from the Active Cheshire team visited SPACE4AUTISM to see how the project was going. At their specialist centre in Macclesfield they were met with Pauline, a volunteer and grandmother of one of the attendees. After a tour around their expanding venue, with a soon-to-be sensory area, Elly and Nont met Kay Locke – a qualified Autism Movement Therapist with years of experience working within the special needs community offering lessons and therapy to families and children. Kay explained, while taping crosses to the floor, that it helped to provide the children and young people with their own ‘space’ during the session.

Joe and Max* were bounding about at this point, waiting for the session to start. On this occasion, attendance was lower than normal, but that didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits. Kay began her music and off they went. The session combined a structured programme of movement and music, connecting the left and right hemispheres of the brain for a ‘whole brain’ cognitive remapping approach that is cited to significantly increase concentration and focus on speed and language and social interactions. The routines remain unchanged week on week, so Joe and Max followed along with relative ease, with Kay providing extra support when required.

The session took the group through their paces, using jumping, swinging, walking, and dancing movements to encourage movement and physical activity, but to also helping with the cognitive remapping. Lasting nearly an hour, there were periods of high energy, interspersed with periods of sitting or standing to complete action and sound activities. At the end of the session, Kay slowed movement right down with a calming visualising exercise, where the group pictured themselves lying on a beach, allowing the body and mind to relax before leaving for the evening.

Throughout the session, the children’s guardians stayed to watch and help if required, and even join in! Pauline, Joes grandmother, described how Joe has been doing extremely well since the sessions began. The movement focused on expanding capabilities for those with Autism to ‘cross the central line’ – something she said people with Autism often find difficult to do, impacting on activities like swimming.

SPACE4AUTISM are keen to continue supporting children and adults with ASC and their families with their Autism Movement Therapy as well as the numerous other activities available. If you are interested visit http://space4autism.com/ or contact the centre on 01625 617884.