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Autism Awareness- AsIAm anniversary

On Tuesday the 31st of March AsIAm had their first year anniversary marked by an event in Smock Alley Theatre.

AsIAm is an initiative to make Ireland a more autism friendly place and raise awareness about autism, a condition which affects around 1 in 100 people in Ireland.

Hosted by Dragons Den’s Norah Casey the room was filled with parents, business people and AsIAm liaisons from around the country.

Adam Harris, founder and CEO of AsIAm, spoke passionately about the organization, thanking those who have helped over the last year and what they are working towards. AsIAm focuses on three key factors: education, employment and community.

“I feel incredibly excited, we are starting a new conversation. This year is a chance for us to take stock as a country and it’s really critical that we start building a more inclusive Ireland and that is what tonight is all about.

“In the next year we are going to see a major dialogue with every part of society, it’s not going to be intensive but it’s about making contact, starting the conversation about what inclusion is, what autism is and what it isn’t.

Yesterday AsIAm launched their As You Can campaign in which they urge businesses and organisations to pick up a short guide, provided by AsIAm, and do even one thing to make them more autism friendly.

Adam Harris and Sinéad Farrelly

Adam Harris and Sinéad Farrelly            Photo By: Gemma Kavanagh

 

They also began a Twitter campaign asking people to let them know what organisations are already doing more to be ASD friendly.

“What I really want to stress is that I’m not going to be knocking on business’ doors asking will they be nice to those of us with autism, we are a powerful market base, we are 1 in 100 people and if you work with us you can win and we can win” said Adam.

Adam’s idea for this campaign stemmed from his own experience growing up in Ireland with Aspergers syndrome and being frustrated at the lack of public awareness of autism.

At the age of 16 he began to get involved with others from the autism community. “One of the most humbling things I ever got to do was to meet people around kitchen tables all over the country and talk about some of the challenges they face. It was very clear that we were missing the elephant in the room. Yes we need research, yes we need money, yes we need legislation but we also need hearts and we need minds, and that’s what AsIAm is all about”.

Autism is a very personal thing and it affects everyone differently. Adam was very open and positive when speaking about his aspergers; “I was very fortunate to avail of early intervention and what I was like as a child is totally different to what I am like now. I spent the first three years of my education in special education and I spent the next five with an SNA and to get to a point where I am now fully independent is amazing, I am very fortunate”

A question and answer session took place where Norah introduced a panel of three people, two mothers each with children with aspergers and one young boy, Finn, also with aspergers. Two of the main topics of conversation were bullying and education. Many of the mothers spoke about a need for children to be educated about what autism is and why some children are different, in order to prevent bullying in schools.

“Before we educate our children we must educate our teachers”, said Maggie Rudden, Cavan Liaison officer for AsIAm.

Maggie spoke about the importance of educating others about autism and teaching children from an early age. “We need a full curriculum of training for teachers in all schools and universities. People with an autism spectrum disorder or asperger’s can fall through the cracks in colleges and universities as there is less individual attention. All teachers should be qualified to deal with every type of child and we need more investment in early services.”

An example of one of the initiatives AsIAm would like to set in motion would be to work with shops to make them more autism friendly. Shopping is a huge deal to someone with autism. One step a shoe shop could take would be to offer morning appointments where families could bring children in and have personal fittings in a quiet environment with shorter queues.

 

“If everyone was to do one thing to be autism friendly, to create a realisation in the public mind-set that we are part of this, it’s not somebody else’s worry, it’s my worry and if that is the only thing that comes from tonight then we have started a powerful movement” said Adam Harris.

 

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