AN AUTISM charity has celebrated the fifth anniversary of one of its services by throwing a party for those that have benefited from it.

Autism Wessex, a regional charity that supports anyone affected by the condition, has run a drop-in advocacy service at Moordown Community Centre since 2010.

Over the last five years, the charity has responded to over 6,000 enquiries, assisting people with applying for benefits and support services free of charge. The service started by offering advice on a range of topics including diagnosis, behaviour, benefits, education, employment, and support services and has continued to expand.

Karen Wilmshurst, advocacy manager, said: “The past five years have flown by. I am very proud of what we have achieved. To date our information and advice helpline has received over 6,000 enquiries and we circulate monthly advice newsletters to over 1,000 subscribers.

“Our parent training programmes are also very popular, supporting over 300 parents so far. It’s good to know we are helping so many people,” she added.

The service also runs four drop-in groups across the region, allowing people with autism to socialise and share ideas in a supportive environment. Ollie Gray, a member of the Bournemouth group, commented: “I have been coming to the drop-in group since it started. It’s been a great place to socialise and I have made new friends here.”

In April, the advocacy service launched the Autism Alert Card with funding from Dorset Police. It is a business-style card that can be carried by a person with autism to help explain their condition in basic terms when they are feeling anxious and need extra help.

More recently the team have launched 53 ‘Thumbs Up’ awards to recognise individuals in the community that have made a difference to the lives of people affected by autism.

The service is entirely funded by community grants and donations. It costs £124,000 a year to run and although the charity receives an annual grant from the Big Lottery Fund, it still needs to raise extra funds to ensure it can continue.

Ms Wilmshurst added: “This service is a lifeline to people affected by autism; we are here for people when they need us. If you want to find out more about it or ways you can fundraise, please get in touch on 01305 213135.”