Like many young people with autism in Australia, 25-year-old Richard Habelrih knows the struggle of isolation all too well.
Richard attended a supportive school with amazing teachers, and yet he remembers still feeling very lonely as a child, and struggling to find activities that were autism friendly. He’s not alone.
Described as a chatty social butterfly, Richard’s childhood doctors told his mum he would never speak. Now, Richard is an ambassador for The A List and a presenter for Autism MATES, two organisations that enable much-needed social connection for young autistic people.
Lack of autism friendly activities leading to loneliness in young people
The NDIA Quarterly Reports reveal that 32 per cent of young autistic people (aged seven to 24), have no friends outside of family and paid support, whilst 67 per cent have not accessed a community or social event in the last year.
The latest report also found that between 38 and 40 per cent of autistic young people under the age of 15 years, cannot make friends outside of family.
Richard’s mum, Randa describes to Yahoo Lifestyle their challenges in trying to connect Richard with social activities when he was a child.
“When Richard was younger it was very difficult to find activities that were inclusive to autistic people. They didn’t exist!”
Platform offering one-stop shop for young autistic people to connect
“Just because you have autism and find it hard to make friends doesn’t mean you don’t want to have friends,” says Richard.
“It’s good to try new things and to meet new people, and if it’s a bit hard at school, then look somewhere else - there are friends from other places as well.”
For Richard, it was through connection to free community service MyCareSpace’s Autism MATES that he and his family found a supportive network.
He was introduced to The A List, a national online platform enabling young autistic people and their families to find autism-friendly social activities.
Created by MyCareSpace’s Bianca Shapiro and Nicole Gamerov, and funded through The Australian Government Department of Social Services, The A List offers peer support groups and community support options, supported by a network of partners, including The Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO), Autism Community Network (ACN) and Autism Aspergers Advocacy Australia (A4).
Their mission is to give every young autistic person the opportunity to connect with like-minded people.
“From our own research and focus groups, young autistic people told us about the challenges they often face,” says Nicole. “The most significant challenges were being able to understand social cues, improve conversation skills, make friends, understand how others feel, work in a group, as well as dating.”
Richard loves planning his activities and connecting with peers through The A List
Richard has completed a series of activities through The A list, his favourite of which has been going on trips with Travengers.
Travengers hosts trips around Australia for young people between 15-35 years who have support needs, are autistic, and who have hidden disabilities.
“Richard loves to get out of his comfort zone and go on these escorted trips, forming strong connections with others like him,” says mum Randa.
“It’s amazing to know that there are options out there for him. We no longer need to spend hours searching. Instead, Richard can plan his day and weekends within a matter of clicks.”
“Our young autistic people want to be social like their peers who are not autistic,” says Randa.
“When they do make connections and finally find their tribe you see them blossoming before your eyes. The A List helps them to find their tribe.”
Find out more about the A List Hub here.
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