Article excerpt

Byline: LIZ DAY liz.day@walesonline.co.uk

A NATIONAL awards system to honour the achievements of those affected by autism was launched at the National Assembly yesterday.

Welsh families touched by developmental disability autism - which affects how a person relates to other individuals and the world around them and hits about one in 100 in the UK - joined with people worldwide to mark World Autism Awareness Day at the event.

The Autism Heroes Awards are the first ceremony designed to recognise the achievements of those affected by autism.

Speaking at the launch in Cardiff Bay, chief executive of Autism Cymru, Hugh Morgan, said: "This event is truly a momentous occasion for autism in Wales. These awards will help to push autism awareness to a new and unprecedented level."

The awards were the brainchild of Jo Salmon, whose 14--year-old daughter Holly, a pupil at Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhymni in Caerphilly, was diagnosed with the condition in 2009.

Her mother said: "We had thought about creating these awards for a long while. I've seen how my Holly has struggled every day with this condition, but still achieves things I'd never have thought possible.

"I have seen some fantastically impressive schemes going on in Holly's school, but this is not representative of all schools and I've heard some dire stories from parents.

"In this day and age, this sort of treatment should not be happening and it upsets me greatly - but these awards are all about celebrating the positives."

Holly's school has taken simple steps to make her experience in and around the classroom more manageable, such as allowing her to leave lessons a few minutes early to avoid the rush in the corridor.

Holly said: "School can be a stressful environment. Sometimes it's all too much and I go into meltdown mode. My school is busy and the corridors can be like a stampede.

"The canteen was sensory overload for me, but fortunately, the teaching staff understand that I occasionally need some time out."

She said: "It's not rocket science, but simple and inexpensive methods can make a world of difference. Some schools have got it spot on, but it's time for the others to catch up."

The awards include three categories, including the Extra Mile Award, recognising the work of teaching staff who have given pupils outstanding support.

Jeff Cuthbert, Caerphilly AM, first met Jo and Holly two-and-ahalf years ago when they approached him for advice and support before setting up autism charity Holly's Ball. …