Autism cafe in Stoke-on-Trent: “Changing the mindset and culture of people to be more understanding of autism”

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“I was at a political meeting the other day, and obviously the fad at the moment is Brexit. I was given the floor, so I didn’t ask about Brexit; I asked about how we can change the mindset and culture of people to be more understanding of autism”: said Salwa El-Raheb-Booth, the Chair Person for Staffordshire Adults Autistic Society (S.A.A.S).

The Windmill Café Bistro staff give a warm smile, turn down the music, and welcome in autistic adults and their families.

The fairy lights on the ceiling hang down elegantly, and the tables are organised into perfectly neat rows.

It’s Saturday teatime, there are people having a beer, a coffee or a nibble to eat, in comfortable chairs, around people who make them feel like they belong.

S.A.A.S based in Newcastle-under-Lyme, have connected with the café in the Market Arcade, to use the quiet space as a base for autistic adults to feel safe and stable.

The Chair Person says: “we aim to help them get out of themselves and into the world. It’s like any difficult journey, you want somebody, and if I can be that somebody, then why not”.

Autism affects 1 in 100 people in the UK; it is a condition involving challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours and communication. It is a spectrum disorder, which means that each person with autism has a unique set of strengths and challenges.

Notice that I will not use words like ‘unfortunately’ or ‘upsettingly’ when giving facts about autism, as I am amazed by the condition and truly believe that it makes kind, genuine, impressive individuals.

The personal attention given to the autistic adults through the society is heart-warming, but with a lot of political issues affecting the area, not all people have the same priorities.

“Whatever shambles we have in this part of the world, at least we can do something positive for 1% of the British society”.

“This is the Brexit capital of Britain… I hate walls, I hate barriers. What is scaring me, is that some people in politics are encouraging personal prejudices, and making it OK”: said Salwa, who is originally from Egypt but has lived in the UK for 32 years.

My own Brother has autism, so Salwa said to me: “I don’t know how your parents feel about having an autistic child, but parents come to me and break down in tears, because all a Mother wants is for her child to be happy”.

She brilliantly says: “Autism is quirky people, and I like quirky people. Eventually, one day this world will actually understand that 1% of this earth are quirky”.

Last year’s ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’ contestant Anne Hegerty from ‘The Chase’ on ITV, spoke very openly on the show about having autism, which attracted a lot of attention from the UK press and public.

The condition is being spoken about much more, and by having such an important society in Stoke-on-Trent, people can feel more comfortable in being open, which I hope will only continue to improve.

S.A.A.S started in 2007, after a group of people felt isolated because of the lack of services for adults on the autistic spectrum in the local area.

Victor Jesus and Ana Chapa, the owners of the Café Bistro in Newcastle-under-Lyme are very approachable, and they have definitely developed a sense of how to adjust the conditions for the autistic customers.

“People seem to want a venue where they can meet socially; this place is a nice hiding place, it’s concealed. To the owners, it’s different business, but you can see how quickly they’ve adapted the place”.

The society has continued to grow, and by connecting with a relaxed venue, they hope to help even more autistic adults, by establishing relationships and making them feel like they are not different.

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