Awareness for Autism has come a long way since it was launched by Ilkeston dad-of-four John Daly in 2013.
The charity is now John’s full-time job at his Stanton Road home, where he runs it with wife Lauri.
The couple’s seven-year-old son Toby was diagnosed with autism when he was aged three. The family had been living in the Lake District and they noticed that his development was slower than older sister Layla’s. A visit to the doctors revealed that he had glue ear. It was only during a hearing test after treatment that a member of staff mentioned they thought he might be autistic. John said: “My wife was raging, ‘how dare he say that’.” However when they got home and talked to neighbours who had autistic children it made them think and they got the ball rolling.
John, 37, who started the charity after losing his job, said: “We moved back to Ilkeston and Toby was diagnosed within six months.
“As parents you can feel alone. People will see your kid and think ‘naughty little brat’.
“I had not long lost my job at the Co-op and wanted to do something to raise awareness of autism. People would stare at Toby in the street if he had a meltdown, they would judge. I thought ‘can anyone just give us a break’.”
He and Lauri, who have three other children, started organising events in Ilkeston for children with autism - the first being a cinema screening at the Scala which was attended by 100 people. “It was a chance for the children to be themselves without being stared at,” John explained.
“Even a day out is a military operation. We have extremely rough days but he’s our boy.”
Two years on and the charity is doing what it set out to do. Though they are still a small charity, the long-term objective is to provide sensory and education equipment such as iPads and laptops for schools.
On Saturday a football match for the charity will be held at Notts County FC. This has seen a number of celebrities and former players sign up, including ex-professional Russell Hoult and Waterloo Road actors Joe Slater and Richard Mylan.
Richard, whose son Jaco has a form of autism called pervasive developmental disorder, told the Tiser: “There is support out there but it’s hard to get what you’re looking for, so the support is there but the awareness isn’t there.”
He said he thought the work John was doing was ‘brilliant’: “I love to get involved with people that have witnessed or experienced autism first hand and decide to set up their own support in the community. They are always the most inspirational people because they realise there is a gap and do something about it. As a parent it can be like banging your head against a brick wall. As long as there are people like John and Anna Kennedy (who set up autism schools in London) then we are on to a winner.”
Richard said he was looking forward to the match, but is rubbish at football. He added: “I would love people to come and meet me on the day so I can get to know the public up there.”
John said getting the celebrities involved all came about through the power of Twitter: “Once one celebrity had signed up, others followed. It was like ‘a snowball effect’. They were originally keen to get more professional players involved but the date came at an awkward time in the football calender.” They have also been lucky enough to get a kit donated by Nike.
John said Notts County had been ‘incredible’ and understanding about the needs of autism. He and Toby recently got invited to the ground as guests, with Toby as the mascot.
John said: “For us raising awareness through football is the best platform. If you can do that then you are on to a winner.”
The event starts at 12pm. For tickets, call 07855 538992.