Today, Wednesday, April 2, Longford will turn blue to celebrate World Autism Awareness Day.
Running under the ‘Light it up Blue’ theme, RehabCare, Midlands Western Border (MWB) Autism support group and Mayor of Longford Town Cllr Paul Connell have asked local businesses to go blue for the day. It is hoped that the event will raise awareness of a disorder that has become “very common” according to PRO of MWB Autism support group, Nicola Gerety.
MWB Autism support group are a Longford-based family support group for families with a child who has been diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Nicola, who herself has a little boy with autism, explains that though friends and family are understanding and supportive, the support group offers families a chance to engage with others in the same postition.
“Autism is such a complex condition because of the huge number of different ways a person may be affected,” Nicola explains. “The most obvious signs of autism relate to the person’s ability to communicate with the people around them,” she continues. People with autism may also have sensory issues - being over or under sensitive to certain stimuli.
With that said, though some people with autism may have a degree of intellectual disability, people with autism and Aspergers can be extremely bright. Nicola adds that they “certainly look at life from a different angle and challenge accepted wisdoms. They can be very focused, organised and reliable in the right setting.”
Unfortunately, Nicola reveals that “there is a desperate shortage of opportunities for young adults with autism once they leave school and this is going to present an increasing problem because the number of children being diagnosed is rising rapidly, now up to 1 in 150 here.”
“Having an ASD child certainly makes their nearest and dearest have to think outside the box,” Nicola admits, “and, although it can be exhausting trying to work out why the child in front of you is reacting the way they are to a situation, on a good day it can be an interesting challenge.”
“One thing is for sure,” Nicola concludes, “your child’s every achievement is very hard-won and very, very special”.
28 families are involved with the MWB Autism support group, and members with an ASD range in age from 4 to 23. The group host activities such as the Fit Kids initiative, music therapy and easter egg hunts, and take members out to various events, including horse-riding and swimming. Today, Longford Town Council will lead the proceedings by lighting up the Market Square. There will also be an information stand in Tesco from 10am to 4pm, offering information, literature and advice.
Blue noses (€2) and blue flags (€5) will be sold on the day to raise funds, for Irish Autism Action.