To truly understand how the parents of local autism support group, ‘Circle of Support’, help one another, all you have to do is sit with a few of them, enjoy a cup of tea and listen to what they have say.
‘Circle of Support’ was founded by local mothers Carrie Coyle, Caroline Roddy, Denise Geary, Amy Campbell and Julieana Harkin in the spring of 2011.
The women already knew one another from taking their children to Little Orchids (a support unit for families with children with special needs) in Woodlea House in Gransha Park.
“We all met for coffee on a regular basis in the early days,” explained Caroline.
“It was great meeting with mothers and fathers who were going through the same thing as you.
“Everyone got a great deal of help and support out of sitting and chatting about things over a cup of coffee. That’s when we came up with the idea for ‘Circle of Support’.”
‘Circle of Support’ will celebrate its second birthday in April and at present 85 families from Derry, Donegal and Tyrone avail of what the charity has to offer.
“We are completely self-funded,” said Carrie Coyle whose five year-old son Carter was diagnosed with having one of the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs).
“The money that we receive is from parents, relatives or just people who want to help. If it wasn’t for the kind hearted nature and hard work of the parents within the group, the ‘Circle of Support’ would not be able to help as many families as it currently does,” she said.
On more than one occasion during the interview, a parent of an autistic child tries to explain the significance of the group and how it helps.
Several of the parents agree that despite the best intentions of their families and friends, there is no substitute for empathy which can only be evoked from experience.
“No one knows what it’s like to be the parent of a child with autism unless they’ve gone through it themselves,” said David Campbell whose son Ethan and daughter Abigail have both been diagnosed with having ASDs.
“It’s great mixing with the other parents of the group because now that we have a unit in Glendermott Business Park it means that we have a place that we can bring our children to without the annoyance of people staring at them because they are making noise. This place is great because it normalises everything for the parents of an autistic child,” said David.
Peter Nixon is one of the most recent parents to join ‘Circle of Support’. Peter’s daughter, Ellie, is three year-olds and was diagnosed with having ASDs.
“My daughter can’t communicate with us but she’s been doing Makaton training and is now able to use sign language.
“I don’t what I would do without the ‘Circle of Support’. It’s such a great part of our life now.”
Taking a child to the cinema is something that most parents take for granted but taking an autistic child to see their favourite film can be sometimes stressful and worrying for parents.
The ‘Circle of Support’ got in contact with the Brunswick Moviebowl and anytime the parents want to organise an outing to the cinema all they have to do is phone up and the management provide them with a private viewing of the film they want to see.
“I can’t speak highly enough of the staff at the Brunswick Moviebowl,” said Carrie.
“They are just brilliant to deal with. We can call them up anytime we want they bend over backwards to help us out.
“They leave the lights on during the film and if the children want to get up and move seats during the film, they can,” said Caroline.
“I took my wee girl to see ‘Nativity 2 - Danger in the Manger’ - that was a great day,” said Peter.
‘Circle of Support’ moved into Unit 18 of Glendermott Business Park in November last year. In recent weeks they held an open day for new parents with children with autism.
The charity is manned by volunteers (namely parents) and every second Monday of every month they meet at the premises for a coffee morning.
“There’s a lot that needs to be done for children and families with autism,” said Carrie.
“Early diagnosis is something that needs a lot of attention and it’s also important to stress anyone wanting to come along to ‘Circle to Support’ doesn’t have to have a child who has been diagnosed - we are here to help in any way we can,” said Caroline.
For more information on the ‘Circle of Support’ search ‘COS for Autism Parents’ on Facebook; telephone 07427558170, 07527909422 or 02871417228 or email, firstname.lastname@example.org