Three members of staff talk about how our website, helplines and parent training services are helping to provide vital information to autistic people and their families.

Our website

Bonnie Molins - Head of Content

Hitting 4.4 million unique visitors last year was an extraordinary achievement. 78% of our website users come from the UK, but so far this year we've had over half a million visitors from the States and tens of thousands of visitors from Australia, Canada, India, Ireland, New Zealand, Singapore and the Philippines.

A user survey carried out last year showed that most visitors are also happy with the information available on the site and we got a very positive Net Promoter Score from our respondents (50+ for those of you familiar with NPS).

That said, any website of our size needs to be kept up to date. While we are really good at putting new pages up, we've been less diligent about pulling out-of-date pages. We undertook a big review and cleanse of our content this year and the result has been to delete around 1,500 obsolete pages and update many of our remaining 4,500 pages. We've also put a system in place to make the review of our pages more timely.

Our old website's visual design was quite cluttered, which wasn’t very autism-friendly, and it didn’t work well on mobile devices. Almost half of our visitors view our site on their mobile phone or tablet, so we needed a responsive design. We worked with a digital agency that specialises in user experience design to improve the 'look and feel' of our site and by doing so improve engagement with our users. We launched the new look for the site on December 10 2015.

On our old site it was sometimes difficult to find the information that you were looking for on a website as complex and comprehensive as ours. To make our content easier to find, we've carried out some work to improve the search function and we have made some changes to our information architecture. Next year, we'll be concentrating on improvements to the online shop, the donation and membership pages and site registration.

The new design was well-received by users in testing. I hope you prefer it, too. Websites are never perfect, however, so,  you spot anything that needs improving, please let us know by emailing webmanager@nas.org.uk or by filling in the form on our feedback page.

Bonnie Molins
Head of Content
The National Autistic Society

Our helplines

A little boy holding a giant telephoneI am so proud that our small, but dedicated helpline team were able to answer an amazing 16,000 enquiries last year. But the reality is that we have more calls than we can answer. It's my team's biggest challenge.

I worked for several volunteer-led charities before I came to the NAS and so I know how effective a well-trained volunteer support service can be. Many of the calls we receive are from people requiring straight-forward information. If these could be answered by volunteers, that would free-up more time for our professional staff to specialise and work on more complex enquiries.

So last Christmas, I put a call-out for volunteers though our Facebook page and put out an enormous banner on the railings outside our Head Office at Angel in London. I was so pleased when over 30 people came forward. They each attended an open day to find out what they could do to help and whether or not they would be interested in taking it further. About half went on to offer a regular commitment the NAS Helpline and Supporter Care services. Initial training was two full days and six online modules but every volunteer will tell you that they learn more from our callers every day.

Our volunteers are a diverse group. We have people on the autism spectrum themselves, parents and others with no connection to autism but who just want to help. Their support has meant that far fewer calls are left unanswered. We are not yet where we want to be – with every call answered first time –but our volunteers have made a great start in helping to make ambition a reality. 

Although all the work is currently undertaken from our London Head Office, we are hopeful that we will be able to offer voluntary work that is home-based so that geographical location is no barrier to being part of the work we do.

We are always interested in hearing from anyone who has a few hours to spare each week.  If you would like to help, please email lifeline.volunteers@nas.org.uk.

Kelly Hains
Head of Autism Helpline and Supporter Relations
The National Autistic Society

Our Earlybird parent training services

Jo Stevens - Head of EarlybirdEarlyBird courses help parents understand how their autistic child sees the world. It offers strategies on managing challenging behaviour and reducing anxiety arising from sensory issues and practical advice on the simple things that really make a real difference, like weeing and pooing in the right place  playing with others, coping with change and getting a better night's sleep.

I've had the privilege of leading a team that has supported families with EarlyBird training for many years now. I wish every family could receive this kind of support post-diagnosis. We've found that the best way to increase access to EarlyBird, is to train more people from other organisations so that they in turn could provide support for parents training in their own locality. 

Last year, our EarlyBird team trained 275 new licenced users, both in this country and abroad. That's meant that 2,153 families last year alone got to benefit from EarlyBird training. In 2013 we developed our Healthy Minds programme, which is an early intervention programme to help with emotional wellbeing. This year we are working on a new programme called TeenLife to help families with older children understand their child better.

Find out more about how we provide lifetime support by reading our Annual Report. We provide information and support pre- and post-diagnosis and more specialist services to meet the needs of people as their lives develop, on topics from finances to school and housing options.

Jo Stevens
Director, Earlybird
The National Autistic Society

Read more about our impact.