Listowel one of 11 new 'autism friendly' towns

Listowel has been named as one of 11 Irish towns that will work to be designated as an "autism-friend" following the success of a pilot project in county Cork.

The famous Fealeside literary capital was announced as amongst the 11 Irish towns on the journey to becoming autism-friendly in a project seeing supermarket chain SuperValu teaming up with AsIAM, Ireland's national autism charity and advocacy group.

In conjunction with the announcement, a survey conducted by AsIAm showed that presently, the autism community does not find society accessible, understanding and inclusive - but that simple steps could be taken to help change this. A total of 240 people were surveyed who either have autism or know someone closely who does. Those surveyed were asked several questions about their perception of how autism is recognized and understood in retail and in the wider community.

Despite the majority of those surveyed claiming that the public do not understand enough about autism, 71 per cent believe awareness and understanding of autism has increased in Ireland in the past year. On this, AsIAm CEO Adam Harris says that "awareness and understanding of autism needs to shift to acceptance and support".

Simple measures can be the difference between exclusion and inclusion. For example, 50 per cent of respondents said that even if staff were understanding of autism it would greatly improve their experience.

SuperValu is pioneering these changes in-store. SuperValu's Kevin McCarthy said: "SuperValu Listowel is delighted to be on a journey to help make our community more autism-friendly. As well as autism-friendly shopping in our store we're working with organisations and businesses throughout the community to make Listowel inclusive and autism friendly. We have a fantastic Autism Friendly Committee here in Listowel. I am confident that our journey to getting accreditation will be a successful one!"

AsIAm CEO Adam Harris said that even the smallest steps can be crucial: Small steps can make a big difference and communities working together to increase understanding and improve accessibility will bring about happier, healthier lives for autistic people. We look forward to supporting these towns as they go on the journey towards our accreditation."