More Than Words – an autism support group in Armagh – will be celebrating three years next month (November).
The group has gone from strength-to-strength supporting families in the wider Armagh district.
Last year saw the establishment of a new youth club for children with ASD, their siblings and their families.
When Chairperson Joanne McCracken (pictured, above right) first set up the group her vision was to bring families together so they were no longer isolated
It was also to help her boys make lasting friendships and develop skills that often children with autism lack in; social, communication and interaction.
Another goal was to lobby for better support and services, which saw the Council pass a motion to train staff in all council facilities in Armagh with autism awareness training.
A working group will be set up to facilitate this training.
Said Joanne: “I have struggled and had doors closed, over and over again regarding autism training for parents, extended family, carers, teachers and classroom assistants.
“At the moment training is only offered to parents in Armagh if your child is still with autism services.
“But once your child is discharged there is no training available. My son was discharged after a year and this is the norm among many of the parents who have a child or children with autism.
Joanne said she has reached out to all autism networks for support.
This year Joanne came across a project called The Empower Project which commenced in September 2015.
The focus of this project is to support children under 12 with autism, dyslexia and dyspraxia, their parents and the wider family circle.
The Empower Project provide training workshops, counselling sessions for young people struggling emotionally, with anxiety, anger and confusion about their diagnosis.
They provide training workshops for organisations, awareness training workshops, self-care and pamper sessions.
Joanne was so happy that she saw light at the end of the tunnel and was welcomed by Marie McCloy, the Project Manager, who said she would love to help.
Joanne said she was absolutely delighted that after three years she finally found support for the many families in Armagh.
“Autism training is crucial,” Joanne added. “My boys see and think about the world around us differently.
“They have difficulties with processing things we take for granted; they struggle to express how they feel, struggle with communication, with self-care, regulating themselves etc.
“But with the proper training, advice and support I have been able to help my boys and I want other families to be confident in themselves to do this too.
More Than Words will be providing a venue for The Empower Project to come to Armagh.
Joanne has organised two sessions in November – Autism and Anxiety; and Autism and Sensory Processing.
For a parent to be able to support their child with autism they must understand what it is and how it affects their child. Thanks to The Empower Project this is now possible.
Joanne said: “When I first advertised the training on our event’s page I thought it would only be members who would avail but I have had to start a waiting list as I have been contacted by teachers, teaching assistants and many many parents.
“After this overwhelming response I have now asked The Empower Project to bring more training to Armagh.
“I will be speaking with Armagh councillors to help provide a suitable venue as this is essential for many of the autism families in Armagh, it is a life line.”