We were sad to hear of the recent passing of one of our founders, Gerald de Groot, who died on 29 October 2018.

Gerald played a pivotal role in changing attitudes towards autism, as well as setting up practical services and resources for autistic people. 

Gerald was inspired by his autistic sons, Mark and Timothy. Both children grew up in the 1960s, when very little was understood about autism. At the age of two and a half, Gerald recalled his son Mark showing signs of autism. Mark was later referred to Dr Mildred Creak, who had studied autism in America. Through Creak, Gerald was put in touch with fellow parents of autistic children.

This group included Lorna Wing, Michael Baron, Helen Allison and other now well-known figures among autism professionals. Together they formed a charity, which would come to be known as the National Autistic Society. Their early accomplishments included founding the UK's first school for autistic children, under the leadership of pioneer Sybil Elgar. This National Autistic Society school is now named after her. 

Soon after, the first residential service for autistic adults was founded, Somerset Court, where Gerald’s son Mark still lives. We spoke to Michelle Payne, the Area Manager for adult services in the South West, including Somerset Court: 

“Gerald was a kind and humorous man who was actively involved in Somerset Court until his passing. He strongly believed in and advocated for, not only his son, but all the individuals living there. His passion and dedication was unquestionable. During visits he could be heard speaking fondly about the history of Somerset Court and was pivotal, not only in its inception, but also the continuing development and improvements.

“He and his wife, Ida were the life and soul of any event and would share their enthusiasm with other families and staff. Gerald was the former Chairman and, more recently, Secretary of the Charity SCAT (Somerset Court Action Trust) whose purpose was to raise money for additional equipment and services at Somerset Court.

“He worked tirelessly to support us in any way he could. He touched many lives and will be greatly missed.”  

As a charity, we would not be here today without the hard work and innovation of people like Gerald de Groot.

Our thoughts go out to his family and friends at this time. We know that his legacy will continue in our work at the National Autistic Society.