Ambitious About Autism, the youth autism charity, has created the UK’s first online platform for people aged 16 to 25 with autism to share experiences, create connections and access peer support sessions.
The charity hopes that the online platform, called Ambitious Youth Network, will help to reduce isolation and improve wellbeing among young people with autism and says it wants to support 5,000 new young people with the platform over the next three years.
Ambitious Youth Network offers a safe, moderated space where young autistic people can explore their identity and connect with like-minded people, share experiences and discuss employment, work experience and volunteering opportunities, as well as campaigning for change. It evolved out of the charity’s Youth Council, which has campaigned to raise awareness about mental health problems experienced by young people with autism.
“The pandemic left many autistic young people feeling more isolated and alone than ever before,” said Jolanta Lasota, chief executive of Ambitious About Autism. “We knew we had to take action and provide a space where more autistic young people can have their voice heard. With the launch of our new online platform, we will be able to connect an ever-growing group of autistic young people from across the UK, helping them build supportive friendships and work together to create a more inclusive society.”
One young autistic person who joined the platform said: “Before I joined [the network], I struggled to take part in group activities and was highly anxious to do so; now I feel much more confident and self-assured in a range of different situations. The network has had a very positive impact on my life, because it has given me a strong sense of belonging, enjoyment and I don't feel as isolated or lonely anymore.”
According to Autistica, seven out of ten autistic people have a mental health condition such as anxiety, depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder. A 2021 study by the University of Exeter found that autism diagnosis was “stretched to breaking point” with numbers of autism diagnoses increasing more than 20-fold in the past two decades, and a marked increase among girls and women.
In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and increased demand for mental health support generally, Ambitious about Autism hopes that the new platform can go some way towards offering community-based mental health support for young people with autism who may face long wait times not only for assessment for autism spectrum disorders, but also for mental health support.
If you are struggling with your mental health, reach out for support locally through this website.
West Sussex Mind and the National Autistic Society run various free e-learning modules around autism for parents and carers, including Understanding Autism, Autism, Stress and Anxiety, Autism and Sensory Experience and Autism and Communication.