Club tackles social isolation for people with autism

May 02 2019
Club tackles social isolation for people with autism

TWO men who set up a social club in Thornbury for people with autism hope that it will become a hub for the whole area. Robert Graham and George Mac, who have Asperger’s syndrome, founded South Gloucestershire Aspies after finding that there were few services to tackle social isolation among people with the condition.

Robert Graham and George Mac, who have Asperger’s syndrome, founded South Gloucestershire Aspies after finding that there were few services to tackle social isolation among people with the condition.

The group now has 80 members from across South Gloucestershire, Gloucestershire and even a few from Bristol, with the majority from Thornbury, Yate and Dursley.

They meet at the Malthouse pub in Thornbury every Wednesday evening at 7pm and play board games, skittles, pool, darts or computer games.

Every person who has autism is affected in a different way, which means each person’s need to socialise and the way in which they communicate is unique.

George said: “Some of our members are more or less non-vocal or have speech issues. They may have a helper; some are very shy and afraid of talking, others are super-confident public speakers.”

Making friends is difficult because people with the condition are unable to do easily what the rest of us take for granted – read body language, decipher social cues, and understand language that isn’t literal.

George said: “It takes a lot of mental energy to maintain relationships the neurotypical way – that is the crucial point.”

At South Glos Aspies meet ups, people can be themselves. Some may have specific interests which could be regarded as obsessive, but so do others, so they are comfortable together. George describes this as “being on the same operating system”.

The group has had some difficulty finding a suitable pub to meet at, because people with autism also have sensory sensitivities, sometimes to specific noises, lights or tastes.

But feedback has been extremely positive. Regular attendees at its sessions have described them as "life-changing", with one saying: "I didn't have any friends before this group.”

Long term, they hope to find a volunteer who can expand the group’s remit and are inviting organisations or businesses that wish to become ‘autism-friendly’ to come and meet them.

As George says: “The best way to learn about autism is to talk with autistic people.”

You can find the group via www.southglosaspies.org.uk or on Facebook under South Gloucestershire Aspies