AT A GLANCE: Autism charity invests in new online comms

What’s the charity doing?
Research Autism, which raises funds to support research into autistic conditions, has launched a website bringing together information and anecdotal evidence on 70 or so ‘interventions’ – that is, therapies or treatments – available to help improve the lives of those living with autism. These range from dietary or physio­logical to medical and behavioural.

Who is handling comms for this?
Redleaf Communications is providing agency support and has been in charge of launching the website. Redleaf director Ian Haworth leads the account, reporting to the charity’s chairman Geoffrey Maddrell and development manager Judi Newman, who is the in-house PR contact. The programme is a mixture of media and professional relations.

What are the target audiences?
The obvious ones are people with autism, their carers and families, as well as healthcare providers such as GPs. Certain interventions can help improve the lives of those with an autistic condition, but information about their efficacy has been sparse. In PR terms there are real sensitivities here, for example, parents of autistic children may not be impressed by information about ‘cures’.

But is autism ‘curable’?
No, and this is one of the key comms messages. Speculation and gossip abound in the treatment of people who are on the autistic spectrum, partly because the condition itself is not particularly well understood. On the website, each intervention is rated according to the amount and quality of scientific evidence in peer-reviewed journals supporting it. Very few interventions produce substantial, long-term benefits and some can be time-consuming, expensive or even harmful.

What’s coverage been like?
There have been pieces on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme and in The Guardian, The Times and The Daily Telegraph as well as charity and medical publications and regional print and broadcast media. Coverage has tended to mention the dearth of information regarding interven­tions. Further comms will focus on new research which is due out later this year and ongoing fundraising efforts.

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