The AsIAm team travelled to Limerick City on Friday, where our Founder and CEO Adam Harris delivered a presentation on autism and the lessons to be learned within the education system about creating an inclusive environment for pupils living with the condition.

Speaking at the University of Limerick’s Mary Immaculate College (MIC), Mr Harris spoke extensively about his personal experiences growing up with a diagnosis of autism from an early age. Inclusion and understanding formed the thematic focus of the presentation, as Mr Harris used examples from his own childhood to practically demonstrate the complexity of neurodevelopment amongst autistic individuals.

Speaking after the discussion, Anne O’Byrne, a lecturer in Inclusive Education at MIC, praised Mr Harris’ candid discussion of his experiences growing up with an early diagnosis of autism: “[Our] students were delighted to hear Adam speak about how a person with autism experiences the world and how we can support children in our early childhood and primary school settings.

“Adam also reminded us that when you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism.”

Mr Harris repeatedly emphasised autism’s varying affects on those diagnosed with it throughout his presentation, highlighting the importance of looking at the child affected by the condition as an individual and what their own needs were.

“The most important thing in the school is the culture. If you don’t have the culture right, then you’re not going to get the actual education right either.

“No one expects the teacher to be an expert on autism, but it’s the willingness to learn that makes all the difference.”

Up to 300 people attended the discussion hosted in MIC’s Students’ Union building, including students, faculty and parents in the audience. The question and answer session following Mr Harris’ remarks witnessed a variety of different concerns and queries, ranging from how parents could inform their child of their diagnosis, what teachers could do to help pupils on the spectrum during moments of challenging behaviour, and about Mr Harris’ own experiences about disclosing his diagnosis to his friends and wider family.

Ciara Dooley, a second year student studying Early Childhood Education and Development, had this to say about the event: “My little brother’s on the spectrum himself, but there’s a fairly sizable age gap between us, so I didn’t experience the nitty-gritty of my parents raising him. I actually learned a lot from what Adam said this morning and surprised myself with how little I knew about autism. It was a really refreshing experience.”

Her comments were echoed by Louise Ryan, a Limerick mother of two school-age boys on the spectrum; “Adam spoke about how when he was younger he’d a lot of challenging behaviours and how they could be difficult to manage. To see him standing in a room in front of a whole load of people today, speaking publicly, it kind of, as a parent, gives you hope that your own child’s challenging behaviours will someday will progress into something that would mean that they would be able to have a good place in a society as a full member of it.”