Oxfam whistleblower to become first chief executive of autism charity

Helen Evans says she wants to be an openly autistic female charity leader to increase the number of visible neurodiverse women in the workplace

Helen Evans (Photograph: Teri Pengilley)
Helen Evans (Photograph: Teri Pengilley)

Helen Evans, former head of safeguarding at Oxfam, is to become the first chief executive of the autism charity the PDA Society. 

Evans, who has spent almost the past two years as director of the neurological charity Dravet Syndrome UK, said she was autistic and wanted to be one of the few female chief executives with such a diagnosis in order to boost the number of visible neurodiverse women in the workplace. 

The PDA Society supports people with pathological demand avoidance, a form of autism that involves the avoidance of everyday demands. 

The charity, which was set up in 1997 and registered as a charity in 2016, provides information, support and training about PDA for individuals, families and the professionals working with them.

Evans, who was the head of global safeguarding at Oxfam between 2012 and 2015, attempted to highlight issues of concern at the charity before the story involving some of its workers in Haiti came to light. 

In 2019, she was given an award by Middlesex University for her whistleblowing work

Since leaving Oxfam, Evans has also been chief executive of the neurological charity Cavernoma Alliance UK and served as a Labour councillor on Oxfordshire County Council. 

She said: “I know through personal experience the enormously positive difference the PDA Society is making to the lives of the PDA community. 

“The information resources, training, inquiry line and other services are one-of-a-kind and a lifeline for many. 

“It’s a great privilege to join the charity as its first chief executive and to support the trustees to further the charity’s mission.”

Sally Russell, chair of the PDA Society, said: “Understanding of PDA has come a long way since the PDA Society was founded. However, many professionals still don’t recognise PDA.

“This postcode lottery is a huge barrier to individuals receiving the understanding and support they need, which is leading to unnecessarily poor outcomes for this group of autistic people and their families. 

“With the appointment of our first chief executive, we look forward to furthering our reach and remit to improve acceptance of PDA.”

Evans will take up her new role on 19 July.

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