As Autism Awareness Week begins, mum of two, Laura Graham, officially launches Kerr’s Journey: a social enterprise changing the lives of autistic children in Inverclyde.
This week (1–7 April) is Autism Awareness Week, a chance to raise awareness of autism and show support.
To coincide with the week, mum of two Laura Graham has officially launched Kerr’s Journey: a social enterprise offering support to autistic children and their families.
Laura was inspired to start the group after her youngest child, Kerr, was diagnosed as autistic last year at the age of three.
“I truly believe I’ve had the inclination about Kerr since he was around 11 months old,” explains Laura. “I found these years a real struggle, always in a sense of anxiety, living in limbo.
“As heart breaking as his diagnosis was, it gave me some clarity. It let me move on to our next chapter.”
The group is based in Laura’s local area of Inverclyde, near Glasgow.
Shortly after Kerr was diagnosed, Laura searched for support for autistic children and their parents but found little on offer, she says: “I felt everything was for older children. There was nothing for toddlers, especially pre-diagnosis.”
Inspired by her drive to make the world a better place for her son and with the support of her family, Laura decided to start Kerr’s Journey.
The group is for parents of autistic children as well as the children themselves, something Laura was passionate about after finding the diagnosis overwhelming.
“As a parent of an autistic child, my confidence was so low,” Laura recalls. “I’d received many negative reactions towards Kerr and I was always second guessing myself. I was a ball of anxiety.”
“I felt it really consumed me and I had no time for myself,” she continues. “I vowed that I didn’t want another parent to feel this way.”
Since starting the group, Laura has learnt about the importance of taking time for yourself and how this will help your child.
“Being a parent to an autistic child is mentally and physically draining,” explains Laura. “Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Sit with that cup of tea when you can, cuddle and watch that movie. The housework can wait, you are not invincible, you need self-care too.”
The group started as a blog but quickly grew. As other parents got in touch with similar experiences, Laura decided to create a physical group.
The Little Trailblazers, a group of autistic and pre-diagnosis children along with their parents, meet once a week at Branchton Community Centre.
“The same rules apply every time,” says Laura. “They are that there are no rules, no judgement and to be safe and welcome in a nurtured environment.”
With the support of the local community, Laura has launched a second group at another community centre. A Kerr’s Journey homework club for autistic children is also starting within a local primary school.
Each group meeting is dedicated to providing a safe and inclusive environment for autistic children and their families. Local libraries, clubs and even the area’s football team are on board to provide activities and support.
“I take it to different locations and do different things,” explains Laura. “It all has its own identity and meeting place, but all comes under the umbrella of Kerr’s journey.”
No two days with the group are the same, but each meeting they make a difference. “At any given session there’s not an overload of children but you can’t have this with the nature of the kids” says Laura. “I always stick by the motto it’s quality over quantity.
“It’s what I can do to help those five kids in the room rather than having 25 there.”
Laura hopes the group will promote inclusion in the wider society and show parents that their children can be part of mainstream clubs too.
“I’m a true believer in transition to inclusion,” emphasises Laura. “I think it’s important to build these children up to mainstream activities. By nurturing them and taking baby steps, I truly believe great things can come from this”
Laura believes that this process is building parents’ confidence as well as their children’s.
Before Kerr’s diagnosis, Laura felt naive to autism and that it was still a taboo subject. “As much as there was awareness now I still don’t feel the level of understanding has caught up,” she explains. “I wanted to break down those barriers.”
The need for greater understanding of autism motivated Laura to officially launch Kerr’s Journey as a social enterprise in time for Autism Awareness Week.
Autism Awareness Week takes place annually around the world with World Autism Awareness Day on 2 April this year.
The week highlights the need for better disability education and autism awareness while giving the public a chance to show their support.
It is also an opportunity for people with autism and their families to share their experience.
“I feel it gives important issues a platform to tell their story,” Laura explains. “Like myself being able to tell our story, using weeks like this allows our voices to be heard.”
Laura is using the power of social media during Autism Awareness Week to spread the word about Kerr’s Journey.
“I really believe in the positive power of social media,” says Laura. “By using #AutismAwarenessWeek in our posts I feel I can reach so many more people.”
Better awareness and understanding of autism leads to greater inclusion in society. As Kerr grows up, awareness weeks like this one could make the world a better place for him.
Laura says: “An autistic child is an autistic adult and I want the world to be ready for him.”
As Autism Awareness Week gets underway, Laura is asking people to share why they support Kerr’s Journey on social media using #ISupportKerrsJourneyBecause.
The campaign has already received support including that of local celebrity and Line of Duty star, Martin Compston.
Shortly after the official launch of Kerr’s Journey as a social enterprise, the group was awarded £5,000 funding from Oak Tree Housing Association.
This funding, along with money from a fundraising page, will be used to expand Kerr’s Journey and support more families. The money will be used to create group welcome packs, connect with local schools, set up new support groups and more.
“I really hope in years to come Kerr can look back and see how much I’ve done to try and make the world a better place for him,” expresses Laura.
As Kerr’s Journey grows Laura is urging other parents to follow their instincts to support their children.
“Never give up,” advises Laura. “There is nothing in this world like a mother’s instinct, no doctor, therapist, teacher or specialist knows your child like you do.
“Stand your ground and fight for your rights, we are our children’s voices and mums always knows best.”
Kerr’s Journey is more than one child’s journey: It is Laura’s, her family’s and their community’s journey to greater support and inclusion for autistic children.
Find out more about Kerr’s Journey here.