Thurrock branch Thurrock Branch - Easter Party

The National Autistic Society helps run volunteer-led branches up and down the country. These branches support autistic people in the local area with services and activities that they need. During the current pandemic, we’ve helped them adapt to deliver activities within government guidelines and in a safe way. We provide guidance on how to run branch social groups online, interact with online training and online chat, and to encourage participants to share their experiences to support each other through these unprecedented times.

We caught up with Sam Kahn, mother to two children, and one of the two parents who set up the Thurrock branch in Essex to find out about the work they do.

The COVID-19 pandemic has tested the branch and meant we’ve had to adapt quickly. I’m grateful that my son is enjoying the social isolation but there’s plenty of people at the branch who haven’t been so lucky. The group has carried on with the support from volunteers and the National Autistic Society. We’ve provided 75 children with activity bags to keep them busy and it seems to have helped. We aim to get in touch with members once a week and this week we’ve sent a personal message to each family on a postcard through the post which they all loved.

We support around a hundred families across the borough. Normally, we have 25 support groups, and lots of activities ranging from lunches to Dad clubs, and bowling nights to pop-up arcades for all the family. It was really good to see the smiles on people’s faces. It's been so important to be able to replace that with another schedule of activities such as our support groups on Zoom and bingo nights once a week which gives us a chance to all get together.

The five of us on the committee who volunteer to put on the activities love doing this. I have an autistic son and a daughter who is not on the spectrum. My son was diagnosed when he was around four. We were lucky enough to get a quick diagnosis but what I didn’t realise was that this was just the start. The next five years were tough. Schools, doctors, everything. Often I was made to feel like I was making it up. I felt uncertain, isolated. And I’m not ashamed to say that it led to my depression and a lot of hard times.

I didn’t want other parents to go through what I went through. Seeing how Thurrock wasn’t well covered, I tried to set up a support group. I really wanted to help. I tried to do my own thing, but it didn’t work out, so I volunteered through the National Autistic Society. They were there to give me advice, information and structure. I know how important groups like this can be for autistic people and their families.

The National Autistic Society is such a large part of my life and it’s great that we can bring so many people together at times like these.

Find out more about branches and the work they do.