Plans unveiled for unique neurodiverse centre in two buildings, with gallery, bakery, cafe, respite and residential care
Land has been donated to a New Ross group planning to open a unique centre for neurodiverse members of our community, where they can contribute to society and receive the support they need.
The DreamBig social enterprise will support autistic people and their families, by teaching skills to aid working in a real business environment, building confidence and offering employment opportunities.
It will be the first neurodiverse social enterprise in Ireland. Neurodiversity is a concept that describes individuality and uniqueness in cognitive functioning.
ADHD, Autism, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia and Tourette’s syndrome are all examples of neurodiverse conditions.
Addressing the New Ross Municipal District meeting, Mag Furness shared her story as a parent of two autistic children. “One was diagnosed later in life; the other when two.”
Having worked with Cottage Autism Network, Ms Furness said she saw huge gaps in the system.
She said a restaurant, art gallery, bakery and pottery business employing neurodiverse people would put New Ross on the map in a new way.
A respite centre and support service is also planned in a farmhouse near the town.
“There is nothing in the New Ross area. People have to travel to Gorey. We started the Railway Youth Club in November and we already have 40 members.”
Ms Furness, who works as an SNA at Catherine McAuley Junior School, said: “We know there is a big demand for activities so to have a business and training for neurodiverse people so they can get a job at the end of it would be amazing.”
Teresa Carr Buckley shared her story of raising two children who are non verbal and autistic. The social worker said: “The problem is there are a lot of people who are neurodiverse who get diagnoses with different diagnoses on the spectrum. Many don’t get an ASD diagnosis.
“They are kids and adolescents who fall down through the cracks and don’t get access to the services.”
Ms Carr Buckley said the Dreambig group hope this will eventually lead to the development of an Autism Centre of Excellence in the south east, which will provide much-needed support to families and children, teenagers, young adults and adults in the region.
She said Wexford doesn’t have its own signature pottery business. “Pottery is great from a therapeutic and sensory perspective. We got good feedback from a lot of kids in CAN about it.”
She said there are certain signs parents have regarding children on the spectrum, including extreme discomfort from tags.
Supported living apartments and a respite centre are planned for the farmland.
“Respite is saturated at the moment. we want to build apartments for neurodiverse individuals who can have a 24/7 support network on site. A lot of neurodiverse people live at home with their families which is often very daunting for them. There is a similar project for physically impaired people in Waterford, called Cheshire. It has separate apartments and respite apartments and part of the project is social enterprise. People can be supported from Transition Year onwards.”
Kennedy College have agreed to start a programme with Dreambig whereby mainstream students assist their neurodiverse classmates, simultaneously gaining an understanding of what it’s like to be on the autism spectrum.
There are plans to include the students in the An Gaisce competition.
A wraparound programme is also planned, providing care in New Ross from diagnosis to end of life.
“We also plan to support families. We want to provide counselling and therapy for parents and siblings. From a holistic point of view, there will be a siblings workshop. We want to start this in the next 18 months.”
Inundated with emails calling for the service from people in the New Ross area, stretching into south Kilkenny, Waterford and south Carlow, Dreambig said the fact that 45 children and teenagers from the New Ross area are attending their social group reflects the tip of the iceberg of neurodiversity in the area.
“We want to hit the disadvantage areas as they have nowhere to go. I worked in Simon where many people with mental health issues have undiagnosed ADHD and they get into drugs and drug dealing. We’ve had a huge response since we started this in January.
“We have managed to get 19 board of directors from all over the south east. Our goal is to start off here in New Ross with a pilot programme. We are hoping to roll it out within the region over the next five or six years; Waterford being the next place.”
Unique selling point
Ms Carr Buckley said the project’s unique selling point is that it would be the first of its kind in Ireland with all enterprises under the one umbrella.
Confident of receiving funding, she said the next year will be spent getting Dreambig registered with the charity regulator.
She said a donation of a farm and farmhouse has been a game changer for the project.
“Someone has come forward anonymously and offered land to build apartments for the supported living programme. We are very grateful to this person. It’s huge and has turned the whole project on its head.”
Ms Furness said funding from Wexford County Council, the government and other bodies will be needed to realise their dreams for vulnerable people within our community.
“The donation has really changed our whole project in the last month. It’s something we weren’t expecting four months into the project.”
She said the committee will run both the social enterprise and residential care projects simultaneously.
“We chose New Ross because with the greenway we think it’s a perfect opportunity to highlight that New Ross is going to be a town. People will come and realise we are a very inclusive town. We are also involved in the autism town initiative.
“Having worked with families we know how important it is that they feel they can go somewhere where they can feel comfortable, and not judged.
“Training isn’t provided to a lot of staff in business. This is something the council could come on board with us to promote New Ross as an inclusive town.”
She said some children have been refused from sporting clubs in the county because of their autism diagnosis.
“It’s the fear of the unknown for any child diagnosed with autism. You can even see it with teachers, but you will never laugh as hard as when working with a child who has autism. We need to change the narrative around neurodiversity. RPM is huge for anyone with it.”
The Rapid Prompting Method (RPM) is a pseudoscientific technique that attempts to aid communication by people with autism or other disabilities to communicate through pointing, typing, or writing.
Cllr Pat Barden shared his story of his and his wife’s experiences of having a son who has autism.
“If we can get this up and running it will be huge. It’ll be a one stop shop for everybody. In my instance I have a chap who is 17. When we had him we thought there might be something when he turned two and a half. We went to the HSE to look for a diagnosis but couldn’t get one. We had to go privately.”
Cllr Barden said it still took years to get his son Occupational Therapy and speech therapy. “We got speech therapy once a year. The people doing it are so frustrated they’re retiring and moving abroad because there aren’t enough resources there. This is a huge problem in this country and the government needs to rethink it.”
Calling on Wexford’s TDs to champion the Dreambig cause, Cllr Barden said families end up spending a lot of money getting services for their children.
He said neurodiverse people can become very frustrated within the school system, adding that RPM works wonders for non verbal autistic children and teenagers.
“That opened up a whole new world for us. Through RPM he could tell us about his school day and what was on his mind, and he even started writing poetry.”
He said parents of neurodiverse children have to think about what will happen their child after they leave secondary school. “If this project comes to fruition it will be huge for every family with a child with special needs.”
Ms Carr Buckley said the group have a ten year plan, adding that they will meet with Minister of State for Disabilities Ann Rabbitte to make their proposal.
“It’s catastrophe in the disability services in Ireland at the moment. There is nobody getting any services.”
Cllr Michael Whelan said: “This is achievable with ye at the wheel.”
Ms Furness said New Ross is a DEIS town, meaning many people can’t afford to go private an an OT assessment.
“If we can provide services cheaper for families we will.”
Cllr John Fleming said people in school years ago with ADHD got beaten up. He said the project requires considerable funding.
Ms Carr Buckley said they are working with various organisations, adding that New Ross’s large catchment area is key to the project’s funding success.
She said a location in the town is also needed, as the plan for the farmhouse is for a day centre. VTEC courses and other training modules are planned.
Cllr Anthony Connick said he supports New Ross being an autism friendly town.
Ger Mackey of Wexford County Council’s Community section said the presentation was one of the most inspiring he has ever seen. He suggested Dreambig complete a feasibility study, and try to access Healthy Ireland funding. “To me, this is an essential project. This is only the tip of the iceberg. I suspect there are a huge amount of neurodiverse people who are just suffering it. You need to stress test your project.”