Charity ball aims to fund autism centre
It’s often called the invisible disability.
Autism spectrum disorder is thought to affect as many as one in 100 New Zealanders and yet its nature makes it harder to create awareness and understanding.
Autism New Zealand Auckland outreach co-ordinator Jo Lloyd and her son Elliot Lloyd-Bell want to change this.
The organisation will benefit from this year’s Grocery Charity Ball in August. The ball is in its 12th year and is run by New Zealand’s two biggest supermarket owners, Progressive Enterprises and FoodStuffs, and the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council.
Lloyd says the charity is hoping to use the funds raised towards opening an Autism Resource Centre which would act as a ‘‘one-stop shop’’ for people with autism and their families.
An autism spectrum disorder is a lifelong developmental disability affecting social and communication skills.
Those affected can also have accompanying learning disabilities but, whatever their general level of intelligence, everyone with the condition shares a difficulty in making sense of the world.
On the surface, 12-year-old Elliot appears just like any other boy his age but he sees the world differently.
He was diagnosed with Asperger’s, a higher-functioning form of autism, when he was 5 years old.
Lloyd says her son’s relatively late diagnosis placed a huge amount of stress on the family.
‘‘I was just parenting like you would a typical child and yet I’ve got a child here who I didn’t realise the noise and lights were overwhelming for. He was actually freaking out and I didn’t realise because the behaviours were coming across as quite challenging.’’
A resource centre would have made the road to diagnosis and acceptance so much easier, Lloyd says.
‘‘It would have made an enormous difference because I just didn’t know. I sought professional help and they all said ‘he’ll grow out of it, he’s a toddler, he’s just a bit naughty’.
‘‘It was like this huge validation and relief that we weren’t bad parents and he wasn’t a naughty child – the world changed suddenly once we got that help and that diagnosis.’’
Lloyd says the diagnosis is now more widely accepted.
‘‘We’ve seen a huge increase in diagnosis so the need is massive.’’
Elliot says people often forget that it’s also tough for those with autism themselves.
‘‘You have parents running around having no idea what’s happening but you have a full understanding of it and you can’t communicate it, you don’t know what’s wrong,’’ he says.
‘‘Everything around you is going wrong and from your point of view it’s your fault, it’s you doing everything wrong.
‘‘So that’s why everyone is in a kind of dark, grey area.’’
Spreading awareness is the first step but acceptance is crucial, he says.
Grocery Charity Ball Trust director Don Graham says Lloyd’s presentation blew him away.
‘‘It was superb because Jo got up and did a really heartfelt speech and that was really something,’’ he says. ‘‘ We choose a charity where the need is great and where we feel we can make a difference.’’
Organisers hope to raise about $250,000 this year. It will be held at The Langham Hotel on August 29.
Autism New Zealand Auckland outreach coordinator Jo Lloyd and her son Elliot Lloyd-Bell, 12, who has Aspergers.