'Small changes can allow autistic people and their families to become a part of their community.' Sara Mangera, organiser of Finsbury Park Mosque Autism Hour

Meet Sara, who took action to create change in her community by working with Finsbury Park Mosque to hold an Autism Hour. It was the first ever Autism Hour held in a mosque in the UK.
Sara tells us more about getting her autistic son, Abdullah, the help and support he needs, and why Autism Hours are an opportunity to create permanent change…

Why did you seek an autism diagnosis for Abdullah?

I suspected that Abdullah was autistic before he was diagnosed, as I have an older stepson who is autistic and my husband recognised some similarities in their behaviour and communication. Abdullah was a quiet and happy baby, although he never settled into a sleep routine. He was sleeping two hours a night, with occasional short naps. Once awake, he was hyperactive and never tired. As he got older, I noticed that he was not making eye contact, never turned his head when you called his name or pointed at anything, and preferred spinning in circles to playing with toys. Initially, I went to the GP, who referred him to the paediatric consultant at our local hospital. I wanted to get the diagnosis as soon as possible, to get Abdullah the support and help he needed. 

Sara and AbdullahSara and her son, Abdullah

How did you organise the first Autism Hour at a mosque in the UK when it had never been done before?

I arranged a meeting with the Chairman of Finsbury Park Mosque and spoke to him about the proposal for the Autism Hour. He understood my concerns and recognised how we could improve awareness and understanding about autism in the Muslim community, as autism isn’t something that is really spoken about. The Chairman agreed for me to lead on the Autism Hour. 

How did it feel when so many people turned up to the Autism Hour?

I was ecstatic and emotional that so many people attended the Autism Hour. There was lots of happiness and acceptance on the day. Many of the parents and carers I spoke to said how they hoped for awareness and acceptance of their child in the mosque and that the Autism Hour was the first step. They explained how much they enjoyed the Autism Hour and how comfortable they felt. 

Have you ever experienced a time when someone has made an effort to be understanding about autism or a sensory issue?

Yes I have had plenty of positive experiences. I remember one time when Abdullah and I were in a high street shop and the queue was long. I knew it would be a struggle for Abdullah to wait in the queue. I spoke to one of the shop assistants and explained that Abdullah was autistic and that he was feeling overwhelmed. She immediately spoke to the manager, who opened another till to serve Abdullah and I. What I have found is that, over the years, awareness of autism has increased, but there is still a long way to go. 

An Autism Hour is 60 minutes long. Why do you think it will have an impact?

Although it was only for 60 minutes, the Autism Hour in Finsbury Park Mosque has already had an impact. For many of our autistic attendees this was their first time in a mosque, and I have been contacted by parents from different parts of the country wanting to hold their own Autism Hours in their local mosques.

By making small changes in the environment, like reducing bright lights and loud, sudden noises, it can allow autistic people and their families who struggle to leave the house to become a part of their community. This will hopefully lead to more acceptance of autistic people, including them in all aspects of life. For me, the mosque is a place of sanctuary, where I can connect spiritually and let go of all stresses and worries and take time out to relax. I want autistic people and other people who are different to know that they have a safe space other than home, and feel respected and supported in their community. I will be working on a campaign to get mosques to participate nationally during Autism Hour in October 2019.

What can autistic people and their families do to demonstrate the impact of an Autism Hour on the lives of autistic people, their families and support workers?

By attending Autism Hours, it provides evidence that there is a real need for Autism Hours in the community. By communicating positive experiences to staff members, managers and supervisors, it will allow them to see what they are doing right and what adjustments still need to be made. I also think it’s important to spread the word on social media to let the world know that Autism Hours are happening, and the positive impact they can have on the lives of autistic people.

What do you hope the lasting impact of the Autism Hour at Finsbury Park Mosque will be?

The next phase of the Autism Hour in the Mosque is for mosques to take part nationally in Autism Hour week in October. I would also like all places of faith to participate in Autism Hour, so that we can learn about each other’s faiths.

Watch a video of Sara's Autism Hour

Read more stories from autistic people and their families