A local organisation is spearheading a project to refurbish an autism centre in the city in a bid to extend its range of services.
Galway Autism Partnership (GAP ) will spend up to €70,000 transforming Tigh Ronain at Laurel Park, Newcastle, into a state-of-the art facility this year.
The brainchild of the late Christy Dooley and his wife Maisie from Renmore - whose son Ronan has autism - the building was originally an autism diagnostic centre. They campaigned tirelessly for the past 30 years for better support for him and others with the condition.
Speaking to this newspaper to heighten awareness during Autism Awareness Month, Miriam Jennings, the chairperson of GAP, says it runs day and weekend activities at the centre, which was built in 1983, as well as maintaining an office there.
“We currently run a respite club on Saturdays for which there is a huge waiting list. We want to expand its hours. We believe that the refurbishment can ensure more activities and opportunities for people on the spectrum and in turn an opportunity of obtaining essential respite for carers.”
GAP does not receive any finance from the HSE and depends solely on its own fundraising efforts to raise money for its projects. Set up in 2011 by parents struggling with lack of information and support while raising children with autism it has 450 members. Some 80 per cent of those are carers/parents/family members of a person with autism. “Our current aim is not to re-create a system but identify the gap,” says Ms Jennings. “We are based at Tigh Ronain from 9.30am to 1.30pm four days a week, provide telephone support seven days a week and facilitate a Facebook page and website.”
She says the biggest gap in service provision to date is the “absolute lack of effective, efficient, meaningful supports and services” for people or families receiving a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Autism is a complex developmental disorder which inhibits people’s ability to communicate, form friendships and interact with the wider world. People with autism often present with restrictive and sometimes repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests and activities.
It is a spectrum disorder therefore symptoms present from the mild to severe range. The majority of people with autism will have a co-existing condition, ie, ADHD, sensory processing disorder while more than half will have an intellectual disability. Some people with autism can live independently with intensive support, others will require continuing care throughout their lives.
Its cause is unknown. Current research is focusing on a genetic factor, foetal development in the second trimester and chemical and environment factors, ie, from lead toxins to the foods we eat. GAP says an average of three families join its organisation weekly.
The charity has set up a number of projects, including a junior youth group for children with autism aged 11 to 14 years. This was formed in conjunction with Foroige [youth development organisation] and aims to ease the transition to teenage years and secondary school. This has been identified by parents as a hugely problematic area with some major consequences for these children. The group facilitates 12 children and has been established since September 2012. A senior youth group supports 12 people aged 15 to 18 years with mainstream challenges and living with autism.
There are also three after-school groups for children aged four to seven years in Tuam, Knocknacarra and Doughiska. The organisations provide a fun environment for children with autism to work on social skills through play and provide respite support for parents/caregivers.
GAP has launched its first Saturday Kids Club for children with autism and complex sensory needs. The children in this group have a complex level of autism and do not take part in mainstream activities. The group is based at Tigh Ronain with an emphasis on outings in the community.
The charity also runs summer camps (for children with autism and their siblings ). “When schools close for summer the majority of families with children with autism struggle,” explains Miriam Jennings. “We identified this and facilitated 40 children over four weeks in August. We offered a range of activities from swimming, yoga, music therapy, circus skills, computers, cooking and outings in the community.
GAP also runs a social care respite programme whereby NUI Galway social care degree students help 30 families for three hours one day a week. This service provides an essential support system for families.
For further information telephone (083 )1222302 or email [email protected]