Mum Pauline Counsell is dedicated to improving life for people with autism.
Inspired by her son, who has the condition, she was involved in setting up a social club where adults could meet other people with autism.
“A lot of it is just chatting and some people have formed friendships. We have even had one marriage and they have had a baby now.”Pauline Counsell
The club, based in Walton-le-Dale, also raises awareness and provides training to help people who meet those with autism.
It has gone from strength to strength, with a second club recently opening in Clayton Brook and the group registering as a community interest company, named IDEAS Lancashire.
Autism is a disability that affects how a person communicates and relates to other people. Because it is a spectrum condition, people are affected in different ways.
Pauline, of The Croft, Euxton, said: “They weren’t comfortable in your average club or pub because they didn’t have the social skills for that.
“We decided to start our own club 12 years ago.”
Tuesday Evening Social Club (TESC) now meets each Tuesday at alternate venues.
“People come from all over, “ Pauline said. “We’ve got a girl who comes from Lytham because there’s so little for young adults and older adults and their parents.”
Pauline describes the club as “a youth club for adults” and says people can have tea and coffee, play pool and use computers.
She continued: “A lot of it is just chatting and some people have formed friendships. We have even had one marriage and they have had a baby now.
“It’s just a central place for people to get together.”
The Walton-le-Dale club proved to be such a success that another group opened at Clayton Brook Community House.
Pauline said: “It’s more for people who want somewhere quieter. Some autistic people feel it’s noisy if people are playing pool or something else at the other one.
“We thought it would be good to go somewhere with discussion groups or a quiz or board games or chess or whatever.”
Parents and carers also benefit from the clubs.
Pauline said: “From personal experience, I can say it’s helped me an awful lot.
“Nobody understands better than somebody who has also got the same issues to deal with - all slightly different but still very similar.
“Other people, you feel as if you are boring them and they don’t particularly understand, but it’s a great emotional support for parents.
“It’s also practical support. Somebody will know about something and tell somebody else.”
What started as a social club has grown to a group raising awareness of autism.
They now hold autism experience training, which shows what day-to-day life is like for an autistic person.
Pauline, 67, said: “I realised that the adults at TESC had a great deal of problems accessing services like education, leisure, doctors and employment.
“Because by and large they don’t look any different to anybody else and people assume a lot and it’s hard to explain to people what it’s like.
“One of our members is a trained teacher and counsellor and having talked to other people, we decided to get some training going to make people more aware of the condition.”
The training is aimed at professionals and volunteers who have contact with people who are on the autism spectrum, for example those working in medical centres, leisure centres, local government, the police, retail, charities, schools and colleges.
It is given from the point of view of people who live with autism.
Pauline said: “It gives people a very different view of autism. Maybe a lot of organisations have had training, but it tends to be people getting it from a book.
“We try to get them to understand what it feels like.
“We also want them to understand that a lot of people have talents but they are not used because they find it hard to get jobs or communicate.”
Pauline has advice for anyone who meets someone they know or think could have autism.
She said: “Often it takes time to process information, so if you ask them a question, they take longer to give an answer. What people do is repeat the question and really it’s just to give them a bit more time to think about it and they will give an answer.
“I think more than anything it’s for people to be patient and to be understanding and not be judgemental.”
The group is looking for more people on the autistic spectrum, along with their parents or carers, to attend the social clubs.
And because of its growth, more volunteers are needed to help with the clubs.
“We are trying to have more clubs but we need more volunteers. All the members who started it years ago had adult children then and we are all knocking on a bit now.
“It would be good to get more younger adults, either who have got someone who is on the spectrum or who would like to help people and help out,” Pauline said.
Volunteers are also needed to help with fund-raising, social media and marketing.
TESC meets from 7.30pm to 9.30pm at The Base, on Brindle Road, Walton-le-Dale, and from 7pm to 9pm at Clayton Brook Community House, on Tunley Holme, Clayton Brook, on alternate Tuesdays.
Tonight’s session will be at Clayton Brook Community House. It costs £1.
For more information about TESC, go to www.ideaslancashire.com.