A young woman with autism now has her very own set of wheels thanks to the team at Swanton Supported Living in Gateshead.

Michelle Charlton wanted to use her Motability allowance to buy a new car so she could get about town, meet regularly with her friends and see her mum who lives 30 miles away.

But the nature of her condition makes it challenging for Michelle to be in public spaces – especially a car showroom.

To make it possible her support team, led by Manager Dhiraj Rijwani, helped Michelle visit car showrooms across Tyne and Wear to choose the car she wanted.

This wasn’t a decision that was going to be made quickly so Michelle’s staff team made a number of visits, gradually getting her used to the experience making her feel more comfortable in the environment so she knew what to expect.

Dhiraj explained how they supported Michelle to make the biggest purchase of her life.

He said: “Michelle’s condition means that she can find it challenging to focus for prolonged periods of time or to explain what her preferences are.

“We looked at a number of cars with her on several visits and we encouraged her to sit in the cars because we had to be sure that she truly wanted a particular model and colour when she made her choice.

“To do this over a few days several different members of staff repeatedly asked her to repeat her choice and each time she chose the red Ford Focus. When she repeatedly confirmed this was her favourite, we knew that it was time to do the deal!

“Michelle had a lovely time when we went to the garage to buy the car, they had even put a big bow on the car to celebrate new car day. When Michelle was paying it was the first time she had ever used her pin number independently without any staff support so it was a very big deal for her – she did incredibly well.”

Michelle said she was very pleased with her new car, which she will use to be driven to the shops, bowling, the café, to see her mum and for day trips out to places such as the Lake District.

She said: “My car is fab and posh. It’s red and so shiny. I absolutely love it, it’s my favourite.”

Michelle, who is 24, has lived at the supported living service in Gateshead for the last three years and has grown hugely in confidence during that time.