The last few weeks have been insanely busy for us in AsIAm.ie, with the “Back to School” period seeing us criss-cross the country visiting schools. We are enjoying the mid-term week (and we hope all our readers are too!) to catch up on some administration work and hatch some plans and so I wanted to take some time out to write a blog and update you all.
Last week was crazy busy to the point that I barely got to update social media. One of the great drawbacks of using public transport (buses in particular) is you often run out of power or internet coverage on all your devices on the way to and from events! Last week we had great events in both Galway and Tyrone but the power and wifi problem prevented me showing you!
On Monday and Tuesday of last week I traveled to Loughrea, Co. Galway, to speak at the launch of an exciting programme being spearheaded by local AsIAm Liaison Officer, Fiona Earley and her colleagues in the Brothers of Charity. AsIAm believes social inclusion is about more than being permitted access to public services – it means that a person must be able to fully participate in all aspects of community life, as per their needs, abilities and interests. This means Autism is not just for school or work hours but something all members of the community a) must be aware of and b) must be committed to Autism-friendly practices.
To that end, the community of Loughrea has decided to set itself the challenge of becoming an “Autism-friendly Town” by working with us and engaging with our AsYouCan Materials. I was really heartened to see fantastic businesses, public services and community leaders attend the launch last week and was particularly delighted that the event itself was entirely Autism-friendly and led by those with the condition. We are very excited to support this initiative and watch it take off!
Later in the week, I travelled to Holy Cross College, Strabane, Co. Tyrone to deliver the first ever AsIAm Secondary School Workshops in Northern Ireland and I was delighted to have 3 of our School Speakers from Donegal and Fermanagh with us on the day – these volunteers will play an important part in scaling the programme in that region. It was great to see such engagement from the students and staff on the day and I am hopeful that it was the first of many visits we will play to the school.
I closed out the week locally, with a visit to St. Gerard’s Secondary School, Bray, Co. Wicklow, to provide a workshop to “Young Social Innovators” Students in Transition Year. It was very exciting to see a group of students not just interested in disabilities issues but in what they could do or create to support those with disabilities living in their communities – I am looking forward to seeing the fruits of their labour in the coming months!
This week I didn’t travel much because schools are closed and so all is quite quiet in terms of school workshops and community events. The exception was Tuesday evening when I was delighted to deliver Autism Awareness Training to the University of Limerick Student’s Union. It was my first time giving a workshop in a University which is something I hope to change as I feel it is a place where campus awareness and indeed future workplace awareness of Autism can be created and is so important for students and young people with Autism.
All this has been going on against a backdrop of exciting opportunities and planning within our organisation. Last week, we learned that we are to receive funding to provide a programme aimed at educating young people to have a better understanding of the condition. The project will be funded by the Department of Justice and Equality and we are really excited by what we can achieve over the next five months – to learn more check out our article on the project here.
I mentioned some of our school speakers earlier, our speakers are now beginning to have their accompanied visits and first solo visits to schools. We are aiming to conclude this process in January and have a batch of speakers across the country who can be called on to bring our message to schools. The speakers have put a huge amount of time into training, many travelling long distances to Dublin, and this is really appreciated. It is such an important aspect of our work, which we could not scale without their commitment. Hopefully it will lead to a better school experience, and greater inclusion from peers, for young people with Autism in Secondary School.
Grainne, our Board and I are heavily engaged in formulating a plan for the next 3 years, which we hope to unveil in the early 2016. This plan will set out our road map and vision and help us to focus and measure our work. Writing a plan like this is never easy as there is so much you would love to do and yet only so much time, resources and energy! It is essential however for AsIAm to have a clear focus and build from there and that is what we are determined to do. In that same context, building up to the launch of the plan, I have to focus on the areas we are prioritising. This means I will begin to travel less and do less external events. It doesn’t mean I would not love to be everywhere at once but simply that we will be asking the question “how can we reach as many people as possible, as efficiently as possible, in order to change Ireland for people with Autism” and the answer will become our plan. I have always felt that those of us in the charitable sector need to have clear, transparent goals so our work can be measured externally and internally and ensure we are actually serving those who benefit from our work – this will be our effort to do just that.
Planning for our National Conference 2016 is being spearheaded by Grainne and I think we are putting together something very cool and unique! I hope we can let you all in on the details very soon!
Next week, the madness resumes! I fly to New York on Monday morning, as a guest of Social Entrepreneurs Ireland, where I will attend a number of events with SEI and the Ireland Funds and share our story along the way. I return on Thursday and go straight to the Council of Europe Conference on Disability, which is taking place in Dublin. I was honoured to be invited to address the conference on Autism and societal inclusion, which I will do on Friday morning!
So, that is all my news for now! As always, we love to hear from people who are able to help in anyway and so feel free to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
Cover image courtesy of hinnamsaisuy / FreeDigitalPhotos.net