Celebrating Alert Card success and autism-friendly museum events

Reading’s museums joined forces with Autism Berkshire and Thames Valley Police for a joint celebration to mark the return of autism and neurodiversity-friendly special events at the museums and the expansion of the Thames Valley Autism Alert Card scheme.

The event took place at The Museum of English Rural Life, part of the University of Reading. The MERL is working with Reading Museum – its partner in the Arts Council England-funded Museums Partnership Reading programme – to run free, monthly Museums, My Way sessions for autistic and neurodiverse people of all ages, after a break of two years in autism-friendly activities due to the Covid pandemic.

Both museums are autism-friendly venues, with Autism Berkshire providing training to staff and assisting with the development of the Museums, My Way programme.

Children and young people were able to enjoy a range of special half-term activities during the session held at The MERL on Monday, February 21.

Harry Padgham and his mother Hannah at the Museums, My Way event. Picture Sapna Odlin

During the event, parents and carers were able to register their children for the Thames Valley Autism Alert Card, which helps them to indicate that they are autistic when they are out and about and if they need assistance and support.

Almost 450 new cards have been issued across the region in just five months, on top of more than 2,000 alert cards already in use as part of the former Berkshire-only scheme.

The autism alert card scheme is funded by a grant from the Thames Valley Police & Crime Commissioner’s Community Fund.

Autistic people who register for the card, or their parents and carers, can choose to share some information about their autism and support needs with Thames Valley Police. Officers who are shown an alert card when they come into contact with a cardholder can request this information from a secure database, to ensure that they are providing appropriate assistance.

Phillippa Heath, the learning and engagement manager of The MERL, said: “Following a review of our offer for neurodiverse visitors, we are delighted to have developed these new sessions at The MERL and Reading Museum, as part of our Arts Council-funded partnership.”

Autism Berkshire’s chief executive officer, Jane Stanford-Beale, said: “We are delighted to be able to work with the museums to promote their autism an neurodiversity-friendly sessions – which are really appreciated by the families we support – along with the autism alert card.

“We have been delighted by the response from autistic people across the Thames Valley to the alert card scheme’s expansion and how many applications we have received in such a short time.”

Lucie Gray, of Thames Valley Police’s Autism Support Network, said: “We recognise that some people who are autistic may have specific needs, which we may need to accommodate when they have a reason to contact us.

“An autistic person can choose to share their information about how they may act in a certain situation with police, which is a positive step towards ensuring we can have the most meaningful interaction. This helps to break down barriers to communication and assists us in being able to provide the best possible service.”

  • Click here for more information about the Thames Valley Autism Alert Card and how to apply
  • The next free Museums, My Way session will take place at Reading Museum on Wednesday, March 23, from 2pm to 4pm.

Pictured above are, from left, DCI Rachel Taylor, deputy head of criminal justice at Thames Valley Police, Jane Stanford-Beale, chief executive officer of Autism Berkshire, Phillippa Heath, the learning and engagement manager of The Museum of English Rural Life, museum visitors Abigail and James, and PC Lucie Gray, of the Thames Valley Police Autism Network. Picture: Sapna Odlin Photography