Local Autism charity Circle of Support wins Families First Award

David Campbell, Chairperson of Circle of Support, receiving an award for 'Best Charity Supporting Families' at the Families First Awards in Belfast last month.
David Campbell, Chairperson of Circle of Support, receiving an award for 'Best Charity Supporting Families' at the Families First Awards in Belfast last month.

A charity run by parents to support families of children who have autism have won an award for their work.

Circle of Support (COS), which was set up in 2011 by five local Derry mums, won the best charity supporting families at the Families First Awards.

The ceremony was held in Titanic Belfast recently.

Chairperson of COS, David Campbell, said winning the award was ‘very rewarding’ for everyone involved.

“We were shocked, because there were a some other organisations which had been nominated which were quite big. Once we were nominated, Families First encouraged people to comment about the group online. Over 200 people shared their experience of our group and how it had helped them.

“That for us was the most rewarding thing.”

In the last eight years, COS has expanded and is now a registered charity run by a committee of dedicated volunteer parents who all have autistic children of their own.

They currently have 340 families registered and some of these families have several children who are on the spectrum.

Most importantly, the charity’s services are available to anyone who suspects their child may have autism and a diagnosis is not necessary.

David, who has two sons with autism and a third currently going through the assessment process, said that both himself and his children have made firm friends through the charity.

COS regularly host family events at local soft play centres or parks around the city and hold coffee mornings for parents.

They also organise sensory swimming in Foyle Arena, where the pool is closed for the private ASD swimming session, and sensory screening in the local cinema where lights and sound are adjusted for the young people.

There is also a weekly youth club for the young people, where they can meet and learn life skills as well as gymnastics, gaming, judo and arts and crafts. Siblings are also included to reflect the impact an autism diagnosis can have on the whole family.

The charity also provides training opportunities for parents to help them understand autism and it runs an annual summer scheme.

David said the charity aims to provide something for everyone on the spectrum, with the youngest person currently registered aged 19 months and the oldest is 27.

The group are currently working to get their new premises in Springtown Industrial Estate ready.

They have encouraged any volunteers who would like to get involved to contact them via the Circle of Support Facebook page.