PARENTS and their excited children joined together to raise awareness of autism, reach out to Swindon families struggling with very little or no help and collect valuable funds at a fun day yesterday.

With a bouncy castle, obstacle course, hog roast and even a Dalek thrown into the mix, members of the Swindon Autism and ADHD support group pulled out all the stops to draw in the crowds at Swindon Rugby Club and spread the word about the condition.

The festivities were a chance for the group, which launched two months ago and already counts 325 parents as members, to raise much-needed funds for the National Autistic Society, a charity which has proved a goldmine of support and information to them all.

“There is a lot of ignorance about autism,” said Mandie Knell, who launched the group along with Linda Akehurst to allow parents to meet, share advice and most importantly support each other.

“My son Tyler who is four-and-a-half was diagnosed a year ago,” said the 35-year-old from Stratton.

“People just think kids are naughty when they melt down in a shop. People stare and sigh and think you are bad parent and when they look at them it makes the child worse.

“There is need of support and more understanding. It’s about changing attitudes.”

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people.

“It also impacts how they make sense of the world around them.

Living in a society ignorant of the condition and too often quick to judge has proved isolating over the years, said Kelly Manning, of Walcot.

“Autism is invisible,” said the 33-year-old whose son Thomas, 11, was diagnosed in 2012.

“Some kids appear to do well but they have many struggles. It can be very isolating. A lot of people don’t want to be around your kids because they are loud or you can’t go to certain places with them. It’s difficult.”

Linda Akehurst, 35, who has two children with autism, Casey, 13, and Jamie, four, said: “We want people to understand that there is more to autism than just learning difficulties.

“Kids may look fine but they are not and they may be a danger to themselves. It is not easy but we want people to know that there is help for them.”

Among the more than 200 guests in attendance was Swindon South MP Robert Buckland, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism.

“It’s a very important event and it’s great to see parents and families coming together,” he said.

“The number of children and young people with autism being diagnosed in Swindon is growing every year and we can see this in the number of admissions to specialist schools and the demand for extra support.

“It’s important to raise awareness but also to raise funds for the National Autistic Society and for our Swindon branch, who do so much.”

To find out more about the group or make a donation, visit