Sunday 4 December 2016

Ten tips to help end stigma around autism

Young Irish man with Asperger Syndrome spear-heading public sector training program

Published 05/04/2016 | 19:54

Adam Harris Credit: Frank Mc Grath
Adam Harris Credit: Frank Mc Grath

A young man with Asperger Syndrome is to train frontline public sector workers how best to help people with autism.

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For the first time ever, Ireland is taking part in World Autism Awareness Week, with many buildings going blue this week as part of the drive to break down the barriers of misunderstanding surrounding the condition.

Adam Harris (20) who founded the AsIAm foundation to provide information and break down the stigma surrounding autism, said funding has been provided by the Department for Justice and Equality for the pilot scheme to train 15 public sector workers on how to cater for people with autism. The programme is due to start at the end of the month.

Adam, who is a younger brother to TD, Simon Harris said he tries to keep his work separate from his family ties – but admitted he is “often in Simon’s ear” talking to him about what needs to be done to help people with autism in the community, with an estimated 50,000 people in Ireland believed to have the condition.

Ciara Jones from Eir pictured with Adam Harris Credit: Frank Mc Grath
Ciara Jones from Eir pictured with Adam Harris Credit: Frank Mc Grath

In a talk at the Eir building in Heuston South Quarter Dublin today, Adam revealed that he has recently met two men in their fifties who have just been recently diagnosed with autism and who didn’t know where to turn.

He has also met parents who have either been diagnosed or self-diagnosed with the condition after their child has been identified as having autism and who realise: “I was like that at school and never really followed the teacher” or “I was very isolated”.

“In a way, it’s a bit of a relief to them because it provides them with a map and it’s quite affirming  to know why they’ve been this way but then they need to know ‘how do I learn to manage this, what can I do’,” he explained.

The event was organised by Eir staff member, Ciara Roberts, whose six year old son has autism and who said she is aware of other colleagues who also have children with the same condition.

The building in Heuston South Quarter is being lit up with blue lights to mark World Autism Awareness Week.

Ciara said her son, Gavin, was diagnosed when he was two and she revealed that the process since has been one of “fear and pain, incredible love and lots and lots of laughter."

Ciara Jones from Eir pictured with Adam Harris, CEO of the
Ciara Jones from Eir pictured with Adam Harris, CEO of the "As I am" Autism organisation pictured before Adam's lunchtime talk on Autism Credit: Frank Mc Grath
Ciara Jones from Eir pictured with Adam Harris Credit: Frank Mc Grath

Her son, who is non-verbal attends the Sacred Heart of Jesus school in Huntstown, Mulhuddard in Dublin – which set up a special class for children with autism for Gavin initially and now has three classes to cater for the number of children with the condition attending the school.

“It’s fantastic the work they have done,” said Ciara, who is taking part in a parachute jump for the school to raise funds , with 26 women also running the mini marathon in June to raise money.

Meanwhile Adam told the group of Eir staff that he was diagnosed at the age of five with Asperger syndrome and spent three years at a special school before being mainstreamed at eight.

Thanks to an “incredible SMA” by the age of 12, he was ready to take the leap to secondary school – but found that he had to start explaining his condition to people who would then start speaking slower or more loudly.

“So I stopped talking about my diagnosis and refused help,” said Adam.

He subsequently set up ASIAM as a way of explaining what Autism is – and to “finish the job of mainstreaming” by helping people with autism to reach their potential.

“There is still a huge amount of stigma surrounding it,” he said.

He gave ten tips that everyone can do to help end that stigma.

They include:

1 Use clear language, be patient and try and make your words easy to understand.

2 Try and reach out to people with autism – let them know they are welcome to attend an event or party, even if you think they won’t come.

3 Be sensible – as in be aware of the sensory environment – loud noises or strong smells can sometimes be like ‘ nails down a blackboard’ for people with autism.

4 Provide reassurance – help people with autism know what to expect from a particular situation.

5 Be adaptable – sometimes it is society that is too rigid!

6 Don’t be so quick to jump to judgement, eg saying: “He’s weird”.

7 See the person first, not the condition.

8 Watch your language – weeding out ugly outdated phrases like  ‘spa.’

9 Be an ally – almost 50,000 people in Ireland have autism.

10 Ask the question – don’t be afraid to ask a question that might lead to greater understanding.

Further information is available at asiam.ie

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