People with autism and their families can look forward to better support in South Tyneside with the opening of a new autism hub.
The new centre, which is based in Gordon Street, South Shields, will cater for all ages with the Toby Henderson Trust providing support for children and young people from Mondays to Wednesdays while Autism in Mind will support older people on Thursdays and Fridays.
Councillor Tracey Dixon, Deputy Leader with responsibility for Wellbeing and Independence, said: "This hub is a proactive response to feedback from people with autism and their families and carers who told us they need more support. These groups have played a key role in the creation of this new service and will continue to shape it in the coming months.
"With higher-than-average diagnosis rates of autism in South Tyneside, we know this hub will be well-used and we hope highly valued by those it will support."
Families will be able to drop in to the hub for support and advice but more formal sessions will also be available. Among the support on offer will be access to resources and peer support, themed workshops on issues such as occupational therapy, mental health and sensory processing, signposting and information and practical advice and support.
An autism diagnosis can have a profound effect on families, ranging from relief, anger, disbelief, guilt and sadness. Studies have shown a link between having a child with autism and emotional distress and there is also evidence linking autism diagnosis to marital breakdown.
Local surveys have indicated that around 40 per cent of families didn't achieve what they expected by attaining a diagnosis. Adults living with autism have indicated that they struggled to understand their diagnosis and evidence suggests that a lack of the right support can lead to crisis.
Rachael Branthwaite, Chair of the Parent and Carer Forum, said on behalf of the Stronger Together Steering Group, said: "There is a real need for this additional support in South Tyneside for people living with autism. The key to the success of this new centre will depend on how well-used it is and I would, therefore, encourage everyone experiencing autism to take advantage of this new service and truly value it."
Dr James Gordon, Clinical Director for Mental Health and Learning Disabilities at NHS South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said: "The autism hub is an important new asset for our community and represents a significant improvement in the support available for people with autism and their families.
"We have heard repeatedly from families and people with autism that often the most helpful support they receive is advice from people with personal experience of the condition.
"The Autism Hub is a fantastic resource for those in South Tyneside affected by autism, where people can drop in to chat to experienced staff and volunteers who can provide friendly and practical real life support five days a week."
The Mayor and Mayoress of South Tyneside, Councillor Norman Dick and Mrs Jean Williamson, officially launched the new service.