A RUGBY league player is leading a completely different kind of fight – the fight to make sure people with autism have the right support.
On the pitch, Matthew Fletcher can be found testing defences while playing for Oldham RLFC.
Off it, the Roughyeds’ ace is behind My Ability, a new firm that aims to provide the correct support for autistic people in Oldham and Tameside.
A different support, one more suited to people of a certain age.
In just over four months, its success has meant he is already looking to expand, both in staff and into different areas.
And it all comes from seeing what his older brother Scott, who has the condition, has gone through.
Matthew, whose company is based in Ashton, said: “I started My Ability in November.
“My brother has severe autism and learning difficulties and I’ve basically looked after him all my life.
“I did some support work as a part-time job and when I was in Australia, I set up as a self-employed support worker. That gave me the idea of, ‘Oh, I can do something like this myself. There’s nothing stopping me’.
“It all started as I worked for companies where an autistic lad who’s 12 or 13-years-old and has loads of energy would be paired up with an older lady.
“There’s no correlation between the two. The lady wouldn’t be up for running around a park all day when that’s what the young lad wants.
“Whereas as an athlete, you’ve got to have a bit of energy anyway and it’s been very successful so far.
“Now I’m looking to take someone else on so I can open it up into different areas like West Yorkshire and other boroughs of Greater Manchester.
“At the moment, we only operate in Oldham and Tameside – it’s just me at the minute.”
Matthew, 21, has now got the keys to My Ability’s office on Oldham Road and has already got nine members using his services.
And his success has been to the point where he has had to turn another eight referrals down because he simply does not have the time to care for them properly.
“We specialise in sport,” added Matthew, who cannot take on wheelchair bound members as he does not have a suitable vehicle yet. “Offering football sessions, or ones of any sport you can think of really.
“We also do things like yoga and meditation, all in the community.
“But we also offer other types of care. If someone wanted to go shopping, access a hospital appointment or just needs some support or friendship, we offer everything like that.
“There’s also shared support, where people can make friends in a safe environment and go on holiday or trips out camping together.
“The spectrum is huge. I’ve a couple of members who are non-verbal. That’s a case of getting to know them, what they like and reading their body language.
“I’ve others with mild learning disabilities who’d be up for doing anything and everything.
“I’ve already noticed massive benefits from the work I’ve done and had very good feedback. We’re getting referrals of people who want to join and I get feedback from parents and carers.
“It’s gone really well. I never expected it to go this well this quickly.”