AsIAm Is Ireland’s National Autism Charity. It was founded 5 years ago by Adam Harris, a then Leaving Cert student who is autistic himself. What began as an online platform for the community to access information and share experiences, quickly grew into a movement for change for the autism community. Today, AsIAm is Ireland’s largest autism charity with a team of 12 staff, half of whom are on the autism spectrum. We are working to create a society in which every autistic person is empowered to reach their own personal potential and fully participate in society. We believe that by developing the capacity of the autism community and addressing the societal barriers to inclusion we can make Ireland the world’s most autism-friendly country.
What we do:
The organisation has received significant press coverage and numerous awards for its work and has a large footprint across the country. During our first five years we have developed a series of innovative supports for the autism community. As well as providing vital information and advocacy supports to the community, we have developed a number of nationally and internationally unique training and accreditation programmes for organisations to become autism-friendly. As a whole of life organisation we have a range of no less than 15 programmes and projects aimed at supporting the autism community. Whilst these projects are diverse they can all be understood under three key headings:
Support & Capacity Building: Our range of projects aimed at supporting autistic people directly include a full-time signposting service, monthly information events held regionally through our Community Support Seminars, ongoing policy and advocacy work and innovative projects aimed at upskilling autistic people to be their agents of changes, such as the AsIAm Youth Leadership Team – a group of young autistic people who we train as future leaders in the areas of self-advocacy, public speaking and community activism, skills they have a chance to use further upon progressing to Youth Ambassadors.
Education & Training: In order for society to fully include autistic people, it is necessary to mainstream knowledge of the condition. A peer in school may need to know how to effectively communicate with an autistic person whilst a doctor may need to understand how to effectively treat a patient who is on the autism spectrum. We provide a suite of training targeting a wide array of people and professionals. This includes the #TeachMeAsIAm Programmes – Ireland’s first autism training programme for early years practitioners and our new Autism-Friendly Schools Toolkit and online training programme for teachers. This continues into third level with our globally-unique Autism-Friendly University Award. DCU was recognised as the world’s first such University last year and we are now supporting six further universities across Ireland in reaching our standard and are engaging internationally to help other countries achieve the same.
Businesses and public spaces: All businesses and public services in Ireland are required under the Disability Act to be accessible for people with disabilities however often organisations struggle to meet the access needs of autistic people due to a lack of information on what is involved. Our organisation has supported leading businesses such as SuperValu and public services such as the Public Appointments Service in becoming autism-friendly through our bespoke autism accreditation. This also available for private businesses through our Online Training.
Our communities project takes this to an even broader scale, with another internationally novel accreditation process. Clonakilty became Ireland’s first autism-friendly town in October 2018 and we have now been funded to support a further 11 towns on this journey in 2019/20 .
Our challenge over the next five years is to build the capacity of the organisation in order to scale our initiatives and build meaningful long term change. As we see the first generation of autistic people, diagnosed as children in large numbers, age out of the schools system we must work to ensure that our communities are inclusive and accepting of autistic adults.