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Ipswich grandfather steps out for World Autism Awareness Week
An Ipswich grandfather is walking 10,000 steps every day to mark World Autism Awareness Week (26 March - 2 April). 

Ian Hartley, 71, who last month became a Public Governor of the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT), is also hoping to raise £500 for the Autism Initiatives charity.

Ian, who was the chief executive of East Suffolk Mind for almost 20 years until 2006, said he became aware of the special needs faced by people on the autism spectrum during his induction at NSFT, which runs the Suffolk Autism Diagnostic Service.

“The more I thought about it, the more I realised that various people I’ve known over the years are probably on the autism spectrum,” he said.

“I signed up for the ‘Walk For Autism’ challenge to walk 10,000 steps on eight consecutive days because I want to help raise awareness of autism and do my bit to get people talking about it which will, hopefully, help to reduce the stigma around it.

“I have personally experienced mental health issues in the past and I believe that doing exercise is very good for my own wellbeing, which is another reason why I was keen to do the 10,000 steps challenge.”

The Walk For Autism was set up by the charity Autism Awareness UK, which also offers employment to people on the autism spectrum. Ian said he is aware from his career with Mind that work is valuable because it bolsters confidence and self-esteem.

Ten thousands steps a day – which is about five miles or 100 minutes of walking – should not trouble Ian, who lives in Bransby Gardens, Ipswich. As well as swimming, he walks regularly, including the seven miles around Alton Water.

In October last year, NSFT launched its Green Light for Mental Health Services 2017-2021 strategy to make sure its mental health services meet the needs of people with a learning disability and/or autism spectrum conditions.

Ian has already signed up to be a “Green Light Champion” for NSFT. The champions promote best practice around the care and treatment of people on the spectrum within generic mental health services.

The Suffolk Autism Diagnostic Service was launched in August 2013 and is based in Haymills House, Station Road East, Stowmarket. It runs clinics in Bury St Edmunds, Ipswich and Stowmarket.

It accepts referrals from the age of 11 upwards and also provides short-term post-diagnostic support and signposts people who have been diagnosed with autism and their families to organisations that can offer longer term support.

Autism is a lifelong neurodevelopmental condition that can affect how a person interacts and communicates and how they make sense of the world. 

Many people with autism live relatively normal lives with some challenges. Others may require more support or a lifetime of specialist support as they may have learning disabilities or other complex needs.

According to The National Autistic Society, there are about 700,000 autistic people in the UK - more than 1 in 100.

People from all nationalities and cultural, religious and social backgrounds can be autistic, although it appears to affect more men than women.

* Anyone who would like to sponsor Ian can do so via this link.

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