‘I want to start a revolution in how people see autism’
YOUNG Greystones man Adam Harris has launched a new website – AsIAm.ie – to serve as a an information source and online community for the autistic community in Ireland.
AsIAm.ie – Autism Spectrum Information, Advice and Meeting Point – is an innovative online charitable initiative that aims to disseminate more information about autism to the public, as well as reverse stereotypes or perceptions that many people might have about autism and serve as a comprehensive platform to help both people with conditions on the spectrum and their families and friends.
Nineteen-year-old Adam – the younger brother of Wicklow TD Simon Harris – has Asperger's Syndrome, a condition on the autism spectrum, and so brings first hand knowledge of living with autism in Ireland to the table. Initially entered into a school for autism, Adam was integrated into mainstream education at the age of eight, where he has remained ever since, but growing up felt frustrated at the lack of a coherent, comprehensive online resource for autistic people in Ireland, and so AsIAm.ie was given life, being formally launched in March of this year. Adam is helped in his endeavour by a board of voluntary directors, each of whom brings unique skills and experience to the project.
‘I decided I needed to set this up is because I was acutely aware that I benefitted from early intervention, where as many others didn't,' he says of his decision to launch the site.
‘I felt that there needed to be something done to change how people feel in Ireland; we have very vague ideas of what disabilities are, and at times we have a tendency to see the disability rather than the ability, and to use and see labels without looking at the person behind that label first. That causes a lot of problems in society.'
These problems manifest in the underrepresentation of autistic people in the workforce as well as the abuse they are likely to receive from their classmates and peers.
‘80% of people with autism are bullied at some point in their life,' Adam explains. ‘And a similar number are either long term unemployed or under employed. And yet, people with autism can make such a contribution to society when they're suffi- ciently supported and upskilled.'
To facilitate this, AsIAm.ie has a number of objectives, including educating those with autism about their condition by creating a one-stop shop for information which is easily accessible and digestible, informing the public about the condition, providing a platform for autistic people to discuss experiences, advocating on their behalf and reversing how people currently see the condition.
‘We need to turn how people see autism and disability on its head,' Adam says, ‘ by creating an online community where people can feel comfortable in their own skin and can share with others their ideas.'
Adam has been involved in autism advocacy for some time now, having toured the country and made an appearance on the Late Late Show, and is now hoping that this website can help greatly improve the perception of – and provide a valuable resource for – autistic people in Ireland. He will also be bringing his advocacy overseas with trips to Morocco and New York on the cards over the coming months.
‘We are hopeful that we will create a platform that will bring the autistic community together and create a powerful vehicle for changing both how autism is seen and addressing issues affected by autism,' he says. ‘ The sky is the limit and there's really a momentum building around the project at the moment.
‘ This is our opportunity to create a revolution of the heart in terms of how people see autism in Ireland.'
Adam Harris with Norah Casey at the launch of AsIAm.ie.
Adam Harris with Minister for Health