A veterinary surgery in Cheshire has become the first in the UK to be recognised as autism friendly, by the National Autistic Society.
Vets4Pets Alsager received the Autism Friendly Award, which recognises businesses that have made themselves more accessible to people with autism and their families.
To be recognised with this award, the practice had to meet five objectives; customer information, staff awareness, physical environment, promoting understanding, and customer experience, feedback and consultation.
Veterinary nurse (RVN) and owner (joint venture partner) of Vets4Pets Alsager, Carl May, applied for the award after becoming aware of the number of children on the autism spectrum coming into his Cheshire practice.
“I wanted to know if various aspects of the practice, such as lights, smells and noises, could negatively affect autistic clients, making it more difficult for them to visit the practice and, therefore, manage the health of their pets,” said Carl.
“We needed to understand a bit more about autism so that the team, who all played a key role in the practice being recognised, could be more understanding and empathetic.
“To help with the award, I completed a learning module with the National Autistic Society to gain a better understanding of autism and provide me, and subsequently my team, with really helpful tips.
“You can’t tell who is on the spectrum and, if you ask a pet owner if they are on the spectrum, some might be pleased and others may not be, so we did something to avoid anyone feeling uncomfortable in the practice.”
According to the National Autistic Society, autism is a lifelong disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world. There are approximately 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK.
Daniel Cadey, the National Autistic Society’s Autism Friendly Development Manager, said: “Taking a beloved pet to the vets can be stressful for lots of people, but for an autistic person busy, noisy waiting rooms with harsh lighting can make their visit even more stressful.
“So, we are delighted that Vets4Pets Alsager has achieved our prestigious Autism Friendly Award - the first veterinary surgery ever to receive it.
“There are approximately 700,000 autistic people in the UK and it’s often the smallest changes that make the biggest difference to people’s lives. Carl and the team have shown passion and commitment to improving the experience of the surgery for their autistic customers and their furry friends. We hope many more businesses will follow their fantastic example.”
Much of what Carl and his team have done relates to managing expectations when visiting the practice.
Clients and potential clients can now take a tour of the practice through Google Maps, so they can see inside the practice before they visit in person and familiarise themselves with the reception areas and the consulting rooms.
“A lot of people with autism have hyper or hypo sensitisation, and our waiting room is quite bright, so the Google Maps tour might help a client decide on whether they want to wear sunglasses when they come in,” added Carl
“They can also see that we provide a quiet space where they can wait if they would prefer not to be disturbed by barking dogs and other practice noises.”
Appointments can be made via email, and the team will provide clients with a brief history of the appointment, medication dosage information, and any future repeat visits on email, so the information is easier to digest, and clients can respond in their own time.
“Really, it’s all about becoming more aware and making changes to our environment so our clients are more comfortable,” continued Carl.
“We’re not able to do everything. We can’t stop dogs from barking, but we can learn to understand why a barking dog might badly affect someone and try to do something about it.”