Helen provides educational and consultancy services for schools, parents, health services and other organisations that support autistic children.
As an autistic woman herself and having previously worked with autistic children for over twenty years as an Art and Design teacher, Helen is passionate about sharing her own life journey to improve the experience of others.
Her mission is now more important than ever, with recent reports suggesting that the number of autistic women and girls may have been severely underestimated due to historic gender biases.
Experts explain that early assumptions of the condition meant that it was predominantly thought to affect men, with the real ratio in fact coming in at approximately 3:1. This means that the number of girls and women with the condition has been vastly underestimated with thousands going undiagnosed.
As might be expected, this has taken its toll on the mental health of many girls and women across the country as living without a diagnosis often means that people are not accessing appropriate support in terms of health and education.
Thankfully, there is now a growing recognition of the issue and Helen is one of the professionals at the forefront of this battle to help autistic women overcome the barriers they face and improve the services available to them.
With such an important task at hand, Helen decided self-employment was the best way for her to reach and support as many girls as possible – and so she founded Helen Clarke Autism consultancy services.
Having worked with business advisor Huda Mamoun from The Women’s Organisation to start her business, Helen was able to put together a business plan and attend a range of courses to help get her started in business. After a successful start it wasn’t long before Helen needed to put a strategy for growth in place, returning for further Enterprise Hub support to help grow her young business.
She says: “I am indebted to The Women’s Organisation who have provided me with valuable support, guidance and high-quality training. I learnt an incredible amount thanks to their expertise, with specialist training covering business planning and how to set up my business, as well as useful sessions on book-keeping and marketing.
“I’ve also been very fortunate to have the guidance of my business mentor, Huda Mamoun, and have greatly benefitted from her knowledge. She has encouraged me to succeed and has believed in me from the very start, encouraging me to keep going and guiding me through the aspects of business which I found particularly difficult.”
Just one of Helen’s aims is to make sure the needs of autistic girls are better understood in schools.
Having an autistic daughter herself, Helen has experienced the education system from ‘both sides of the fence’, so she is fully aware of the issues that autistic girls face both in gaining a diagnosis and receiving an education that fully meets their needs.
She says: “Many autistic girls are labelled “school refusers” because they find it hard to cope in schools, resulting in having a poor attendance or having to drop out of school completely. I want to work with schools to help them better understand the needs of autistic children - the school system needs to change, not the autistic child.”
With a master’s degree in education, Helen is well equipped to tackle these issues first-hand.
Helen believes that autistic people possess many strengths including an ability to see the world from a different perspective and to be able to pay extraordinary attention to detail. Many autistic people are highly creative and others very logical, each being unique and individual.
“Spectacular Girls” – Helen’s series of well-being workshops – was designed to help autistic girls understand how autism might affect them as individuals, while equipping them with valuable life skills and helping to build strong, personal identities.
Helen explains how these sessions are working to improve the lives of autistic girls: “The current academic curriculum often doesn’t include many of the important topics that autistic girls need to explore, such as how autism affects them as individuals, about their own identity and about safety.
She has also worked with organisations like The Atkinson in Southport to help promote inclusion in its services and has compiled an adapted Community and Life Skills Curriculum for autistic children.
So, how has Helen found the process of starting and growing a business?
She says: “Being autistic there are many aspects of setting up a business that have been daunting. Many autistic people have social anxiety for example, but business depends on developing contacts and networking so I’ve had to push myself far out of my comfort zone and will continue to do so.”
“There are also many positive aspects to running a business; being a role model for my daughter so she sees that even individuals can help bring about change in society, helping autistic girls to better understand themselves, improving their mental health, as well as challenging stereotypes of autism and what autistic people are capable of!”
To find out more about Helen’s consultancy services, you can visit her website at www.helenclarkeautism.com or find her on Twitter using @HelenAutism. She can also be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’ve been inspired by Helen’s story and are interested in starting or growing a business of your own, then Enterprise Hub could help!
Get in touch if you’re thinking of starting a business in the Liverpool City Region, or have a new business under three years old. You can speak to our team via email@example.com or 0151 706 8113.