CHILDREN, their parents and carers affected by autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are enjoying a new Larne youth club which was launched at the weekend.
The Kaleidoscope sessions at Linn Community Centre on Saturdays between 2-4pm are primarily aimed at children and teenagers whose lifelong developmental disability affects how they communicate with – and relate to – other people.
It is hoped that the Larne ASD club will help the young people to integrate with society and at the same time raise public awareness of the spectrum condition, which means that it affects different people in different ways. Some people with autism are able to live relatively independent lives, but others may have accompanying learning disabilities and need a lifetime of specialist support. People with autism may also experience over- or under-sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours. The spectrum includes those with Asperger Syndrome, who have fewer problems with speech but may still have difficulties with understanding and processing language.
People with autism have said that the world, to them, is a mass of people, places and events which they struggle to make sense of and which can cause them considerable anxiety.
Amanda Ferguson, who chairs Larne ASD, has an autistic grandchild and knows the issues facing children and young people.
She explained: “Sometimes, life can be very lonely for an autistic child because of their difficulties with social communication and social interaction and we hope that the youth club will help them to lead independent lives as they get older and overcome any fears they may have about going to places like the cinema or the leisure centre – things that other people take for granted.”
Activities on offer at Linn include arts and crafts, air hockey, tag rugby, football and rounders. There is a four-week programme which means that everyone gets a chance to do something different every week.
Outings are being organised to the likes of the Funky Monkeys soft-play centre and the swimming pool at Larne Leisure Centre.
Amanda, who hopes it will also be possible to run a weekly session specifically for teenagers, said she had been aware of a need for an ASD club in Larne, but was still surprised at the level of response.
“We had about 70 adults and lots of children with us on Saturday and we already have more than 70 members on our Facebook page,” she added.
“I am surprised that there so many children – mostly boys – on the spectrum at the moment.”
Parents and carers will also derive benefit from the ASD project. “They can have a couple of hours to themselves, or they are welcome to stay and have a cup of tea and a chat with other people who can share their experiences,” said Amanda.
“We are also offering youth leadership training for adults, families and carers and any of the young people who are interested.”
Amanda feels that Kaleidoscope is a fitting name for the project. She said: “People with autism have been described as being like little butterflies, flitting from one thing to the next. The collective name for butterflies is a kaleidoscope, which is also how autism is viewed today – a spectrum of conditions covered by one name.”