This week, we sat down with Kevin Hanly, a young man from Tipperary to talk about his experiences, his ambitions, his passion for his home county’s G.A.A. team, and how living with autism has helped him realise his potential as an individual in today’s Ireland.
Tell us about Kevin Hanly as a person – what is it you do? What are you chief interests?
My name’s Kevin Hanly and I’m 22 years old. Being autistic, I didn’t think I would ever be at this point to talk about myself as a person; oftentimes, people on the outside tend to put you into a bracket because I’d behave and do things differently. You don’t follow the norms and then suddenly you’re labelled as ‘different’ and even ‘weird,’ especially when you’re younger and growing up. At the end of the day, I’m a person as much as anyone else.
So I just tried to get most out of my life. I left school early I went to the National Learning Network (N.L.N) to develop my social skills, independence, and self-advocacy and to build my confidence up from school, which took a knock. When I concentrated my attention on all these life skills though, I started to achieve more success as I started to believe in myself.
The N.L.N. started to focus more on my interests in sports and media, from Tipperary G.A.A. to T.V. and radio. What was pulling it all together for me, I feel, was actually having that strong level of specific interests that people with autism experience. And really, the secret is I have used my interests to get the best out of me in life.
Around this time last year, you won the AONTAS Adult Learners’ Festival Star Award. Tell us more about that – how did you get involved with the Limerick Soundscapes?
In 2016, I was a member of the Limerick National Learning team that was nominated for an AONTAS Award. Fortunately, we won the AONTAS Star Award which was a boast for us, learners and staff alike.
Our Project was called Limerick Soundscape. The Project captured everyday sounds in Limerick City through a recorder and we’re currently uploading the various sounds onto the Limerick soundscape map. Therefore, in years to come the inhabitants will be able to get actual sounds of the city.
This year, I got invited to the AONTAS Star Awards as the keynote speaker. At the ceremony, I shared my own experience and talked about the impact of winning an AONTAS STAR Award and also how I have used this experience to help to highlight the great work that I have done in N.L.N.
In May, I was involved in a learner panel discussion at AONTAS’ Annual General Meeting and being able to discuss my experience of learning with others was a huge achievement.
Is working in the media where your career ambition lies?
I’ve always had a big interest in the media. That being said, I wasn’t always certain if it was the career pathway that I wanted to go down. I started to put myself out there however, which eventually led to further interviews on local and national radio. I was lucky to get the opportunity to talk about autism and my passion for Tipperary G.A.A. and about the Tipp footballers!
I knew then that this was the career path that I wanted to go down. I was lucky enough to get work experience with Tipp FM and I got to go up to RTÉ Saturday radio sports and recently, I was behind-the-scenes on the Sunday Game with RTÉ! What was great I got to put my love of Tipperary G.A.A. and media together: for me, it’s following my passions and turning them into a job.
You’ve been pretty candid about your support for you home county’s G.A.A. team! What piqued your initial interest in them?
When I was at school I often felt isolated and didn’t have many friends. Tipperary G.A.A. kept me going. When I went to the games I became a different person. I found fellow supporters with the same interests as me. I was accepted as me.
The social aspect of it was, and still is, huge. There were ups and downs along the way, of course, but ultimately it really helped to coax me out of my shell, especially with the way the Tipperary G.A.A. community is. We all have a pretty tight bond as a team where everyone knows everyone, and we’re very supportive of each of our teams, from football to hurling! I couldn’t get enough of it and went to all of the games, minor, U21s and senior!
As for the Tipperary footballers, I don’t know where to begin. Over the years for me it was an honour to be there every step of the way especially all the historic day we have had they were very very special. It’s safe to say they all know me by now as I was always the first one on the pitch to celebrate or commiserate with them always making sure I took a few photos along the way to capture the moments
The footballers and I have a lot in common; maybe the most important is how often we’re underestimated in our abilities. Now look at us. What I’ve learned over the years from the Tipperary footballers is the importance of developing and keeping a ‘never give up’ attitude, because even against all the odds, we can succeed.
Do you actively play for Tipperary G.A.A. yourself? Is there a strong sense of team spirit, on as well as off the pitch?
Well no, not actively, but maybe someday I’ll get the call up if I was any good! I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in a small way with the Tipp footballers. I’d go down regularly with them at training, just to help out in any way that I can.
After every training day that I’m there, they’d make sure I get well looked after, but it’s a bit surreal at first. It’s just like being one of the lads; they’d say to me it’s because of my interest in Tipp G.A.A. and supporting them all the way that they’ve said to me that they’ll be behind me in everything that I do.
100% with the footballers there’s a strong sense of team spirit and I am lucky enough to call them my friends!
Autism and sports aren’t necessarily two things that one would pair together – least of all team sports. Do you feel that living with a condition on the autistic spectrum is a barrier for anyone wanting to get involved with sports?
Yes, I do, because when I was younger I did struggle within a team environment and to this day I still have to work at it.
That being said, it’s a social barrier you must break down. From my own experience, I overthink things and worry that people won’t accept me or that they would be judging me. As you say, autism and sport don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand but in way, it’s helped me in my life becoming friends with players and supporters.
What do you think of AsIAm? Is there anything you think we could start doing in the way of campaigns or educational work surrounding sports and individuals with autism?
I think in some way, the G.A.A. could help out with kids who have autism. If you go into a school, say with a G.A.A. star, to show the way Tipp G.A.A. players have understood and learned about autism from me and others, I feel it will break down the stigma of autism, or any disability, it doesn’t matter. We’re all just people at the end of the day with dreams and ambitions.
I feel that AsIAm is doing a great job with helping people with autism and getting people to understand going into schools is very important, because society is changing and we shouldn’t exclude people with a disability which I feel AsIAm is doing great work in the education system! We must keep the work going maybe in time the education system will take in an account of people who may struggle like myself in the education system!
Kevin has spoken about his experiences as an adult learner with autism. You can watch the video of him speaking at the Transition to Adult Services Fair here: