20th Anniversary

Eilish Stocks a founder member of Autism NI, then PAPA takes up the story. “I just wanted to say how35.JPG proud I am that PAPA is no longer a teenager!  Little did I know when I attended those monthly meetings in Lisburn Day Centre what I was taking on. But what I did know was what I wanted to see happen and thank God that Autism NI is so much more than I could ever have imagined but yet has remained true to the original vision.

You youngsters out there may not realise the debt we owe to Maureen Gordon.  She was a senior social worker in Lisburn who identified parents of people with Autism in the early days as having stresses and needs over and above the parents of people with a learning disability that she was working with.

Maureen brought parents and professionals together and stayed with us until we had launched the charity. I didn’t see it then, but in hindsight it is evident that she wanted to ensure that PAPA was a parent led organisation. That in essence was our ethos. We wanted those best placed to be the ones to give direction to the charity.  In our naivety we were unaware of people with Asperger’s Syndrome and the role played by siblings, relatives and indeed carers. I for one was happy to see the charity’s name changed to Autism NI because it reflected better on what we are.

The important thing is that the vision is still the same. It’s about empowering people to give those with ASD the best lives possible.  Gratitude and applause are due to those who over the years have contributed so much. The hard work by so many is simply too much to list. The charity has grown and evolved but in it’s heart it is still the same. For that we have to be eternally grateful to Arlene Cassidy. She came to us when we had precious little but a vision and oh yes a logo!

Luckily she understood our message and the fact that we mightn’t be able to pay her beyond a 3-month contract!  That we survived is because of her work; that we have stayed true to our mission is because of her work; that we have now an outstanding staff team is because of her and I have no doubt that we will survive these turbulent times with her at the helm.”

Eilish on the far right of this photo continued “It was a fabulous occasion at the Ulster Museum.  I really enjoyed meeting many parents who were there at that time.”

Mrs Margaret Field, Chairperson of East Antrim Branch addressed the audience and presented the background to the Laura Millen Memorial Award. The award was presented by Sir Reg Empey on behalf of the Board, staff of Autism NI, the Teacch Training Study Group and Laura’s family.  The award for excellence in Speech and Language Therapy is recognised by The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists and the College has been involved in the selection process.

Laura Millen was a member of Autism NI Board of Directors (Secretary) and she was also a valued member of the Northern Ireland Teacch Training Study Group. Laura was an enthusiastic and committed member of the Teacch training team. She was generous with her time and skills and was always willing to help whatever the task. She very much enjoyed working with young individuals with Autism and was always delighted with their achievements. Laura will be remembered for her sense of humour, gentleness and sincerity.  The Laura Millen Award is a special award to speech and language therapists to acknowledge and honour their exceptional work.

This year the award was made jointly to two Speech and Language Therapists Pauline Lavery and Siobhan Mawhirk who have carried out work of special value in the field of Autism and have demonstrated outstanding service to this client group. One of the candidates was nominated by colleagues and one candidate was nominated by parents of a children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.   Both applications reflected a range of examples of outstanding scholarship within the context of research and publishing, teaching, clinical expertise and management of ASD and above all a caring and committed attitude in their work which is making a real difference to the lives of individuals with ASD.

Pauline is a Speech and Language Therapist with the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust. She is described by one of the parents who nominated her as “an angel sent from heaven” and as someone who showed outstanding dedication, emotional support and guidance.

“Pauline was always at the other end of the phone in my days of darkness and she did many home visits in order to help me implement techniques with my son. The kindness and empathy that she showed as a professional was outstanding, I can only hope that other parents have been as lucky”

Siobhan is a Speech and Language Therapist with the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust within the diagnostic and intervention service. Her colleagues nominated Siobhan because of the outstanding contribution she has made in over 20 years of service and in recognition of the profound effect her knowledge and expertise has had on Autism service delivery. Her awareness based on direct research with families and professionals has resulted in a parent led integrated approach for clients, families and schools and evidence based interventions which are making a real difference locally.