‘I want to start a revo­lu­tion in how people see autism’

Bray People - - NEWS FOCUS - MARY FOG­A­RTY

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

James Reilly.

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