Light it up
Odds are that we all know someone with an autism spectrum disorder, with researchers suggesting that the prevalence of autism is on the rise.
It is estimated that one in 110 children and one in 70 boys will be diagnosed with autism in the US and, although there are no comparable studies on autism in Ireland, researchers believe the prevalence here is similar to that found in the US.
Happily, it seems that Galway is fast becoming a leading centre for education, research and advocacy in the area of autism spectrum disorder, following the opening of the Irish Centre for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Research at NUI Galway.
This centre is dedicated to ensuring improvements for individuals with autism spectrum disorder and their families, not only through scientific research, but also through education and providing services to the community.
Galway’s reputation as a centre for autism research was also in some ways cemented by NUI Galway’s hosting of the first ever autism conference earlier this year.
At that conference, Minister for Health Dr James Reilly announced that additional funding is to be allocated to address the needs of children with autism in Ireland over the next three years, and spoke about how access to therapy supports contributes significantly to the extent to which school age children with autism can engage in school life and with the curriculum.
The Minister knows only too well how the parents of children with autism feel when there is a delay in procuring services for their children, as his own son Jamie was diagnosed with autism in the 1990s, when attitudes to autism spectrum disorders were often very different.
Adding to Galway’s emerging reputation as a centre for advocacy is the newly established Galway Autism Partnership (GAP), which was officially launched on Monday, World Autism Awareness Day.
This new group was established by parents with the assistance of Galway City Partnership and aims to provide support and information to families affected by autism spectrum disorders, as well as to lobby for improved autism services for Galway City and County, provide an advocacy function and organise family outings, support group meetings and information and training events.
The new group has already gained widespread support from the local community, with businesses including Hotel Meyrick on Eyre Square backing their bid to turn Galway ‘blue’ on Monday. The ‘Light It Up Blue’ campaign is now set to become an annual event in Galway.
Hopefully, more and more businesses, politicians and other community members will get involved with GAP in time for next year’s World Autism Awareness Day, and truly cement Galway’s reputation as a centre for autism education, research and advocacy.