Autism advocacy and support service launched in Bendigo

PEOPLE with lived experience of autism are driving a new advocacy organisation that has launched in Bendigo.

The Bendigo Autistic Advocacy and Support Service has set up shop in Wills Street, along with disability support provider Distinctive Options.

“This is amazing. We have an amazing network of families and autistic people in this town, and finally we’ve got a place to call home,” founder Beck Kelly said.

The service aims to support and mentor people with autism and their families, foster acceptance through education of schools, workplaces and the wider community, and advocate for people with autism in relation to education and employment.

Mrs Kelly said they wanted to move the mindset surrounding autism from one of deficit, to one of potential.

She said a focus would be getting more children with autism into mainstream schools by ensuring the right supports were in place.

Another would be to help more people with autism find employment, Mrs Kelly said, through educating workplaces and matching people with jobs in their particular area of skill or interest.

“We’re all about supporting and holding up members of our own community and family,” she said.

Mrs Kelly said the organisation aimed to provide services on par with the second service level of the National Disability Insurance Scheme before it rolled out in Bendigo.

She said it “seemed natural” to share the building and resources with Distinctive Options.

Distinctive Options chief executive officer Murray Dawson-Smith said the Sunbury-based organisation had been providing support to people in Bendigo for the past 12 months and saw an opportunity to create a small, discreet service.

Mr Dawson-Smith said the service would cater to six to eight young people, who would direct the service according to their needs and wants.

He said such a service model gave users a sense of ownership, leading to more confidence and enthusiasm.

“Often for people with a disability, choice and control is in the hands of other people,” Mr Dawson-Smith said.

Mr Dawson-Smith said people using the service in other locations were learning independent living skills such as cooking.

The service would remain small and if there was enough demand another would be created, Mr Dawson-Smith said.

The building will also house a technology club for children and teenagers with autism, called The Lab.

Adult Support for Autistic Personalities of Bendigo also meets in the building and there are plans for other programs and resources.