Westmeath man offers new hope on World Autism day

On this, the United Nation’s World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD ), Castlepollard native and spokesman for ReConnect Autism Ireland, Declan Sweeney, points out that though the prevalence of autism has increased 20 times in a little over 20 years, his organisation is able to bring a little more hope to its sufferers and their parents.

“In 1988, it was approximately 1 in 2,000 children, however, recent research shows it is now as high as 1 in 100 children with boys four times more likely than girls to have autism,” said Mr Sweeney this week.

To bring the world’s attention to this pervasive disorder that affects approximately 67 million people worldwide, the United Nations has marked today (April 2 ) as World Autism Awareness Day. More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with diabetes, cancer and AIDS combined. It is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the world. There is no medical detection or cure for autism but early diagnosis and intervention improve outcomes.

“World Autism Awareness Day shines a bright light on autism as a growing global health crisis and celebrates the unique talents and skills of persons with autism, and is a day when individuals with autism are warmly welcomed and embraced in community events and the media around the globe,” said Mr Sweeney.

Despite such significant rises in its prevalence, the services and treatments for people with autism in Ireland remain under-resourced and waiting lists are long. however, there is a new service in Ireland that has been proven and very successful in rehabilitating and improving the deficits of autism elsewhere in the world.

Wicklow-based ReConnect Autism Consultancy and Training, which opened its doors in October, “is bringing a whole new approach to treating autism to Ireland”, according to Mr Sweeney, who has brought this programme to Ireland. This new method trains parents to deliver therapy to their autistic children in their own home.

Headed by seasoned autism professional Mr Sweeney, ReConnect Autism brings the Relationship Development Intervention (RDI ) programme to Ireland for the first time. Originally developed in the United States by Dr. Steven Gutstein, this approach has been employed worldwide for over 11 years to approximately 7,500 children and despite launching only late last year, ReConnect is already working with families all over Ireland. RDI is a parent-education programme based on the latest research on the brain, developmental psychology and autism.

“The focus of the programme is to teach parents how to promote and enhance the child’s social and emotional understanding rather than to teach discrete behaviours and skills,” said Mr Sweeney.

“Children on the autism spectrum miss out on or fail to master many of the early developmental stages that typically-developing children learn effortlessly. RDI teaches parents to provide treatment that offers their child a second opportunity to master these early developmental stages. Children on the RDI programme grow up to have stronger emotional and social life skills and improved quality of life longer-term,” he said.

"The foundation of the RDI’s unique tailored approach is that nobody knows our child like we do and therefore no one can guide him like we can,” according to Alicia and Paul Tylak, Dublin-based parents of a 7-year-old boy.

“ReConnect Autism has been an invaluable help in our journey towards making our son’s future a positive, communicative and emotionally-rewarding one. Our heartfelt gratitude goes to everyone who has brought us - and RDI - together.”

Autism Resources:

Irish Autism Society – www.autismireland.ie

ReConnect Autism – www.reconnectautism.org Autism Support Ireland – www.autismsupport.ie United Nation’s World Autism Awareness Day - www.worldautismawarenessday.org


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