• Fri. Jul 1st, 2022

The Downpatrick autism support group’s ‘dream’ of having its own center

ByJulie J. Helfer

Mar 18, 2022

A Co Down group is raising funds to help their “dream” of having their own center a reality.

Downpatrick Autism Family Support Group hopes to raise £25,000 as a starting point to build its own center for children who use their services with their parents.

Co-founder Aine Sloan told Be that the group was founded in 2017 by herself and another local mom.

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She said: “We both felt that there was no support for us as parents, while our children were being diagnosed and also after they were diagnosed. We also felt that there were no locally appropriate services, therapies, activities, etc. for our children.

“Basically, once you’ve received your diagnosis, you’re kind of on your own.

“The group was originally started as a parents support group, a cup of coffee on a Thursday evening once a month at the Ballymote Center and over the years we now provide support to over 230 local families.

“All grants are requested by parents, all activities are funded by parents and the volunteers are all parents.



The support group offers music therapy sessions

“One thing that’s holding us back is the lack of suitable places to rent in Downpatrick. That’s why we’re working on the minute with our local council to secure land and are fundraising to find £25,000.

“It won’t build a new autism support center, but it will allow us to apply for larger grants. They want us to show our commitment, so that’s what this amount is for.”

The group offers activities such as occupational therapy, music therapy, social clubs, yoga for parents, mental health workshops for parents, groups just for dads and will soon be offering private swimming lessons for the needs specials.

Aine added, “If we didn’t organize this, basically nobody would.

“That’s why it’s so important that we try to have a base. We want to have continuity for our families, and children with autism really need that continuity.

“We have a range of different activities that we are carrying out over the next year to try to increase this.

“[Within the group] people feel good when they realize they are not alone. If you’re having a really bad day, it’s just that connection and [knowing] that others face the same challenges as you.



Sensory activities

“It’s good for the kids because they can go to our clubs and not be judged, be themselves. They’re not trying to fit into a box in a club what’s expected and what’s not. ‘is not. [They can] just let yourself be themselves.

“We want other people to get involved. We don’t receive any government funding. Basically, we look for grants and apply for them ourselves.”

The group held a ‘Glow Walk’ at Russell Gaelic Union on Saturday 12 March – the first step in working hard to make their dream of having their own center a reality.

To learn more about the group and participate in fundraising, visit Downpatrick Autism Family Support Group on Facebook or email [email protected]

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