autismPolitical leaders in Bristol have pledged to make the city more autism aware and autism friendly, after a meeting with autism campaigners.

Autism campaigners met the Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, and Thangam Debbonaire, MP for Bristol West, in the last week of January. They delivered more than 40 letters addressed to the mayor from autistic people living in the area explaining the barriers they face in everyday life and how many could be overcome by improved awareness and understanding of autism. 

Campaigners included autistic people, parents, carers and representatives from the Bristol and Avon branches of the National Autistic Society (NAS). They talked to the mayor about the charity’s Too Much Information campaign and encouraged him to work with the charity and take advantage of their expertise to open up the city for autistic people. 

NAS research has suggested there is still stigma around the condition, and that autistic people and families often face ‘tuts’, judgemental stares and disapproving noises when they’re out in public. 

This can mean that people avoid going to places where they might feel overwhelmed or judged, and become more and more isolated – more than 70% of autistic people and their families say they feel socially isolated.

Henry Barnes, NAS lead campaigner for the Bristol area, said: “It’s wonderful that Bristol City Council want to make the city autism-friendly. It was good to have the opportunity to discuss this with the mayor and we hope to work with him to turn this laudable aim into a reality, and thereby increase opportunities for autistic people in the city. [We] hope to work with shops, restaurants and other businesses in Bristol.”

Rees added: “We are determined to make Bristol a better place for people on the autism spectrum to live and I welcomed the meeting with The National Autistic Society to discuss how this can be done. We are already working with a range of partners to improve the experiences of people on the autism spectrum and this is an ongoing process. I will make sure officers get copies of the letters I have received so that any new suggestions can be considered.”

Debbonaire concluded: “If everyone had just a basic understanding of autism, it could transform the lives of the more than 1 in 100 autistic people in the UK and their families. It would allow them to go to shops, the cinema and work in the way other people take for granted. That’s why I fully support the campaign to make Bristol an autism-friendly city. I committed myself to this as a Parliamentary candidate and have made it a priority since becoming an MP. And I will continue to work with our Mayor, councillors, The National Autistic Society and local people to achieve it.”