Adrian Embling, 57, is the manager of DASH – Discovering Austistic Spectrum Happiness. The Swindon charity, which supports adults with Asperger’s and autistic spectrum conditions, was recently in the news thanks to a near-£90,000 boost from the Big Lottery. The money will be used to expand the Autism Matters advice service. Adrian lives in Swindon and is married to a trade union worker.

DASH was founded toward the end of the last decade by Pride of Swindon Award winner Anne Billingham, a driving force behind many community organisations.

“Really it started off as a bunch of social groups,” said Adrian Embling, who joined a few years ago.

“That was its aim, to bring people on the autistic spectrum with high-functioning autism into safe spaces where they could flourish, thrive and be happy.

“High-functioning autism means generally people can cope in life and perhaps hold down jobs. Maybe they’ve had a long career and it’s been successful.

“Their lives are generally okay when you look at them from the outside, but it may be that they themselves experience all kinds of problems on a daily basis – fear, misunderstandings, awkwardness in social situations, simply not getting what is going on in social situations.

“Outwardly they appear fine, but actually their internal world is very different. It’s fraught with agonies of: ‘What shall I do? How shall I do this?’

“Let’s say that somebody is high-functioning autistic. They’re holding a job. They go into a shopping centre and that shopping centre is preparing for Christmas, so there may be people hanging decorations. It may have a Santa in the corner going ho-ho-ho. It may have carol singers or music blaring out a little bit louder. The place will look gaudier.

“If somebody has sensitivity to stimulus – which not everybody has but many do – that person, who may have gone to that shopping centre a hundred times and found it okay, may on this one occasion find it overwhelming.

“What they might do is sit in a corner and just shake or cry or shout because they are frightened.

“That can be somebody who, outside of that situation, is perfectly functioning, but on that one occasion they have a meltdown or a shutdown. That could last for an hour, it could last for 10 minutes, but in that moment you could imagine what you would think.

“If you went into a shopping centre and you saw somebody curled up in a ball in the corner, you would be very worried. Your reaction would probably not be, ‘Oh, I need to go over and find out if that person’s okay.’

“You’d probably think they were on drugs or they were drunk or they had a mental health problem.

“I’ll give another example – I’m not breaking any confidences because millions of people have done this.

“Somebody’s looking for work and they’re asked to attend induction sessions for job brokers. So a job broker – Prince’s Trust, whoever – will invite maybe 50 or 60 people, and for good reason. There’s economy of scale; you’re telling a lot of people the same thing.

“My client took his mother along to this room, sat for about five minutes and then just quietly left because the whole situation of 50 to 60 people together, and having to take information in, was just overwhelming.”

The client was threatened with benefit sanctions until DASH stepped in and explained the circumstances. A one-to-one recruitment appointment was then arranged.

Adrian is originally from Gorse Hill, and has spent the bulk of his career helping the public in one role or another, including in disability and mental health services.

In addition to his role at DASH, he has his own company offering training to people who work in mental health.

DASH has 13 part time staff working for an average of three hours a week.

Much of its funding comes from various organisations under the umbrella of Wiltshire Community Association. Companies including Beard Construction and Zurich have also offered support, and Swindon Borough Council lets DASH have its town centre office at no charge. DASH also stages an annual fundraising run at Coate Water.

Clients are offered everything from socialising opportunities to navigating the complexities of officialdom and human interaction.

Currently between 60 and 70 use the DASH social groups, but many more use its advice service.

“If you have any questions about autism you can come and see our experts and they’ll give you information and advice.

“Over the last year that’s probably gone up to about 400 contacts a year. In the first year it was running at about 120.”

Adrian has am explanation for the increase.

“I think there are a number of things going on. I think schools are getting better at identifying children on the spectrum. I think that then raises awareness in parents.

“You wouldn’t believe the number of parents who come along and say, ‘My child has been diagnosed with autism, what does it mean and what can we do?’ – and then we know from the behaviour of the parent that they are displaying all the signs of a spectrum disorder.

“Those parents are not aware. They don’t know they’re on the spectrum.

“I think awareness is burgeoning that way, and I think as well that awareness is growing in any case because it’s such a hot topic.

“I think more people are becoming aware, coming forward and saying, ‘Hey, I think I have some of these signs and symptoms. Can I get a diagnosis?’

“The great thing is that in Swindon you can get a diagnosis. In some parts of the country it’s very difficult.”

Adrian remembers many DASH triumphs, including coping skills increased, confidence boosted and even evictions averted when DASH helped anxious people with autism to go through their unopened mail.

“You suddenly look, and you think, ‘All we’ve done is opened his mail and helped him to deal with it but here is somebody who would have been homeless.’

“And then you think, ‘If we weren’t here, who would they have gone to? Who would have had the time to tease out what was going on?’”

Inquiries from potential clients, volunteers and donors are welcome, and the DASH website is