At the beginning of Summer 2017, AsIAm.ie hired our first full-time Information Officer, Gáibhin McGranaghan. As we grow as an organisation, we’re mindful of the equally growing need to constantly update our site’s content, our information, our campaigns and of course, our educational material and YouthHub. 

Now, with almost a month into the job, we asked Gáibhin to introduce himself, about what he thinks of his role and his hopes for AsIAm.ie’s future.

FIRST AND FOREMOST: TELL US ABOUT YOU. WHO IS GÁIBHIN McGRANAGHAN?
Well, I’m from Belfast, born and bred. I studied English and Politics at Queens and just graduated at the start of July just there. I’ve always wanted to do writing for a career and I’ve done different stints in journalism and the like.

Outside of writing, I love my art. I’m an amateur – a word I can’t stress enough there – illustrator and would sketch as regularly as a I can. I’ve done a few private commissions for friends and different people who think what I do is somewhat half-decent enough to hang on a wall. I find it most useful as a stress reliever more than anything, really. We accumulate so much static content in our brains throughout the day and almost never clear it out. Getting it out on to paper or on canvas is a great source of relief.

 

WHAT’S YOUR CONNECTION TO THE AUTISTIC COMMUNITY? WHAT INSPIRES YOU TO CONTRIBUTE AS YOU DO?
That’d have to be my younger brother, Neil. I mean, there’s a lot of reasons why, but he stands out as my chief impetus. He’s diagnosed with classical autism, and so he faced a great deal of obstacles and struggles growing up. He still does to this day and although he’s overcome a lot of them, he’s still in need of help in learning day-to-day activities and life skills.

To an extent, I can relate to what he goes through. I’ve Asperger’s Syndrome myself and would – like Neil and a whole range of other people living on the spectrum – experience difficulties around communication, keeping my social skills sharp, and processing what’s going on around me. But in a lot of ways I’m incredibly lucky to; I’ve been able to straddle the line between the two worlds, experiencing both their challenges and their opportunities. Not that I’m inferring for a moment that this ability is natural to anyone living with Asperger’s, because it certainly isn’t. But I suppose what I am saying is that whilst I ultimately availed of opportunities exclusive to the mainstream sphere, I was acutely conscious that people like Neil simply couldn’t; I attended mainstream schools, went to university, and got my first full-time job shortly after graduation.

Of course, none of these were seamless endeavours and I had a lot of support in getting through them, but I’d often ask myself, how many other people on the spectrum are able to do this? How many can even attend school or hold down a job consistently?

 

HAVE YOU WORKED WITH THE AUTISTIC COMMUNITY IN BELFAST MUCH BEFORE MOVING DOWN TO DUBLIN? CAN YOU TALK TO US MORE ABOUT WHAT IT’S LIKE THERE?
I’d volunteered with the Orchardville Society informally since I was around 17. They’re an east Belfast-based charity whose mission is centred around educating and supporting adults with intellectual disabilities on living as independently as possible. That naturally includes finding accommodation and work, but what really attracted me to them was their holistic approach to independent living – that is to say, they’re keen to develop and encourage their members to pursue hobbies whilst living independently. Neil avails of their services hugely and when his social worker informed us one July weekend that they ran biweekly arts and crafts sessions, needless to say, it peaked my interest.

So I was mostly based at their head office in east Belfast where I’d help out the co-ordinators with running the classes. Our members were typically younger but we’d a mix of different age ranges, men as well as women. It’d be very colour-based, so we’d do different things from painting to working with tissue paper. People who mightn’t be as clued into autism would be amazed, I think, at just how calming and crucial outwardly small things like that are to someone who’s on the spectrum. It gives the; and by the end of it, you’ve a physical piece of work that they can stand over and rightfully say “I did that, all on my own.” Family members and friends would sometimes sit in as well, and they’d get a huge kick out of seeing them smile at the end.

As for comparisons between the two communities in either city, I’d say there’s far more similarities than there are differences, positive ones at that. Community is a major bulwark for Belfast’s autistic network and they’re great for looking out for one another. It certainly seems the same way in Dublin too. That being said, I do recognise a similar frustration about the provision of appropriate services, from education to healthcare. Families and guardians aren’t clear about where or how they might ask for a diagnosis or even if their children have one, what supports are available for them in their local communities.

 

WHAT IS IT THAT YOU’D LIKE TO BRING TO ASIAM.IE?
I think that what we have so far in terms of content is excellent, very comprehensive. There’s a clear structure to how information is presented and signposted, but what I’d like to start off with is expand on what we have. By that I specifically mean augment our ‘I Am . . .’ sections with new sections on obtaining diagnoses, specific to each of the parties concerned.

Every month’s content will revolve around a particular theme; August’s, for example, is two-pronged around safety during summer time during the month’s first half and back to school for the second. Articles, information pieces, interviews with relevant individuals, Q&As will feature among that content. We’re very keen to hear what our community would also like to see, and we’ll be very clear about asking for their thoughts and opinions on our social media platforms.

What I’d also love for us to do is expand our blogging section to accept a wider range of submissions through different mediums. Writing a personal essay or a diary entry is a brilliant way of documenting and sharing your experiences, but it’s just one of many different mediums. There’s a whole plethora of ways which people can contribute, whether that’s a vlog, a photo essay, a piece of art or a podcast. Part of our long-term ambition as an organisation is to be a national platform for Ireland’s autistic community to speak out; I think the best step forward in our pursuing that goal is embracing these tools. Moreover, it’s also a great way to include individuals who mightn’t be so confident in their writing skills but otherwise excel when it comes to talking about their interests!