'TAAG kept us going': Chorley's "life-saving" autism and ADHD charity hoping to bounce back post-Covid
Since its founding in September 2012, TAAG (Teenage Autism/ADHD Group) Lancashire has helped countless families across Chorley and South Ribble.
Providing activities for children and young people between the ages of eight and 18 who have Autism Spectrum Disorder/Condition (ASD/C), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), or social interaction and communication needs, TAAG is truly invaluable.
Founded by Joanne Duncan, TAAG is run by the parents of children with social and communication needs and, as well as putting on activities, hosts parent/carer support groups, raises awareness, and arranges community training. Having gained charity status in 2014, they now have some 16 volunteers and meet at Springfield Park Leisure Centre in Coppull.
"I set TAAG up for my own boys, Matthew and Tyler, because there was nothing in the area," explains Joanne, 43. "Matthew was diagnosed with autism when he was little and received support but Tyler was diagnosed later on; I didn't know what to do, so I just set up a group. When I look back now, I don't know how I managed to do it!
"It makes a massive difference to the kids who come down because it grows their confidence whilst also improving their behaviour and they seem a lot happier in themselves," adds Joanne, from Chorley. "That's why it gives me so much pride to be involved, especially when we're also able to help with parents' mental health as well."
Jimmy Corless' 22-year-old daughter Leanne started going to TAAG as a 13-year-old and now volunteers with the charity. "Leanne has Down's Syndrome, so it gave her a great chance to meet people," says Jimmy, 60, from Coppull. "She absolutely loves it - it's the highlight of her week; on a Monday, she'll be getting ready for TAAG on the Wednesday.
"It means a lot to me as well because every parent wants their child to get on in life, so it's great for her to have the chance to get out and interact with people and she's really missed it during lockdown," adds Jimmy. "Joanne is brilliant, she's the driving force behind it all and all the volunteers are great."
A lifelong developmental disability which impacts how a person communicates and relates to others, the autism spectrum ranges from those who can live independent lives to those who need specialist support.
ADHD, meanwhile, is a neurological disorder whose core symptoms - hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and inattentiveness - tend to persist into adulthood for 50% of those diagnosed as children. If left untreated, it increases a child's risk of developing a learning or anxiety disorder as well as social issues.
To help engage participants, TAAG's activities include trampolining and rebound therapy, swimming, and various other sports as well as life-skills coaching, sensory activities, and day trips. What's more, the parent/carer support groups give people the chance to enjoy a coffee, a chat, and a chance to share useful information and relevant signposting to other organisations.
"I took my son James down six months after TAAG was founded and it was an absolute life-saver," says TAAG's safeguarding officer Colette Reid, 49, who is 16-year-old James' full-time carer. "It's become like a family and it's absolutely brilliant - when James was younger, he would refuse to leave the house for anything apart from TAAG. It kept us going.
"The environment allows kids to be themselves a lot more, which is really nice," adds Colette, a qualified social worker who lives in Chorley. "There's a lot of pride in helping in that way."
During lockdown, TAAG was supported by a £1,000 donation from John Lang of Accrington and has recently been awarded £10,000 by the National Lottery Community Fund for the next 12 months. In September, Joanne is hoping to offer training in autism awareness, anxiety, and managing challenging behaviour, too.
"It's been a struggle during lockdown and I think a lot of parents have felt isolated, but we managed a few online Zoom activities like baking, arts and crafts, and bingo," says Joanne. "It's been very stop-start but, because everyone has had to look after their mental health during the pandemic, we've tried to keep things like parent/carer support going."
TAAG is encouraging those interested in volunteering to go to https://taaglancashire.co.uk/