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Autism Awareness Day becomes ‘Awareness Month’ for Armagh’s Triple A

'We welcome everyone and we wouldn't turn anyone away. We see how much they love it and getting out into the community and they deserve to be there as much as anyone else and welcomed. To be part of things. It's so important'

It’s World Autism Awareness Day but one local community group aren’t stopping at a single day – they have a gung-ho awareness campaign throughout the month of April.

Armagh-based Triple A have been providing leisure, community and activity for adults with autism and other learning disability from their Cathedral Road site since 2017.

And in that time, group Chairperson Bernie O’Connor – whose own daughter Jodie has autism – attests that autism awareness in Armagh has certainly improved: “I can only speak on my experiences with Jodie but I do think people in Armagh have become so much better over the years.

“We go into lots of different places in the town and we can feel it. Probably because we are out more now and we take Jodie into different places, people know her and are so much more understanding.

“I find Armagh in particular is more understanding of the person or the people.”

But as a whole, Bernie still feels that more can be done, both on a public and government level.

“The public definitely need to be more aware and I can only say how it effects Jodie but on her behalf I think people do need to be more aware.

“Jodie finds it tough socialising and going into places. She wanted to go shopping over Easter and go for something to eat but there was music on throughout the shops and it was so loud.

“We had to get up and leave and walk to the nearest exit and walk around the entire building just to get out of there.

It’s something that would barely even register with most of us on a leisurely shopping trip, but for Jodie the impact is immense. As Bernie says: “Wee things can make a big difference.”

The group now have 17 attendees in a ‘mixed group setting’.

Continued Bernie: “We opened up as an autism support group when Jodie left school but now we find there are so many different people with different issues and they don’t have anything either.

“We welcome everyone and we wouldn’t turn anyone away. We see how much they love it and getting out into the community and they deserve to be there as much as anyone else and welcomed. To be part of things. It’s so important.”

Groups like Triple A are not just about providing people with a space for recreation – even though that is a huge focus! They help to establish routine and safe spaces, they foster a sense of community and purpose.

It’s at this juncture that Bernie believes the need for improved awareness in government becomes clear.

She said: “Services are so lacking. We have yet to find anything that Jodie could attend or take part in on a daily basis. There needs to be provision for when people leave school. They are really just forgotten about.

“It depends on the person and what they are capable of but the services need to be there. It should be provided higher up rather than a parent or member of the community having to run them. You feel a lot of pressure it can be like a full time job because you don’t want to let anyone down.”

As part of their awareness-raising campaign the group are working in partnership with Park Run to put on a 5k ‘blue run’ at the Palace Stables on Saturday April 6.

Anyone can attend and all participants are encouraged to wear blue to help raise awareness. The full route is not mandatory and it can be taken at any pace necessary.

To round out the month, Triple A are hosting their much anticipated Gala Ball event at The Armagh City Hotel on Saturday April 20 at 7pm.

It promises to be an evening of good music, good food and good craic! The group are also holding a fundraising auction on the evening with the support of several generous local businesses.

Tickets are priced at £35 and can be purchased by contacting Bernie on 07871536635.

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