Galway Autism Partnership (GAP) is currently engaged in a fundraising campaign in order to move into its own office space. The charity is appealing for donations of old office equipment, laptops or mobile phones to help fund this centre.
Raising a child with autism can present a number of challenges but having a support network can make all the difference, according to Polish mother-of-two Paulina Siedlasickrek-Maciejewicz
Paulina’s son Wiktor is five and a half-years-old and was officially diagnosed as suffering from Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) last year. However, as his mother explains, the process of diagnosing him started much further back.
“With the knowledge that I have now, I would have seen sooner that something was wrong, but people were just saying, ‘Every kid is different, every kid develops in their own way, don’t worry, he’ll be fine’. Then there was a time when I said, ‘No, there’s something wrong’,” she recalls.
Having visited five doctors in her native Poland while home on holiday, Paulina returned to her Irish GP with five separate diagnoses. Her GP then referred her to the HSE’s Early Intervention Service (EIS), where Wiktor had access to the specialised diagnosis and support he needed.
Wiktor now attends a special ASD unit at a Tuam pre-school where he can receive special care and Paulina is quick to acknowledge the help of the other parents in Galway Autism Partnership in alerting her to the amount of help she could get for her son.
“Until I started to be a member of Galway Autism Partnership, I didn’t know much about the system here. All I had heard was from people that work in the system, so they didn’t tell me everything,” she says.
“They gave me a lot. But thanks to the mothers from GAP, I knew that I could push them more, because I didn’t know the system.”
According to Paulina, the parents involved in GAP are like a small community of experts, who pool their knowledge and help each other out wherever possible.
“To be honest, mothers…we are speech and language therapists, we are occupational therapists, we are psychologists, we are everything, you know? You have to be an expert in everything if you want to help your child.”
As well as providing parents with the opportunity to share their experiences, GAP also organises outings for the children and their parents, ranging from the Easter Carnivals to sensory-friendly film clubs.
These special trips to the cinema, with lower volume and dimmed lights rather than darkness, have been ideal for Wiktor, as Paulina had begun to feel unwelcome at regular showings.
“I was lucky, I think, because his autism is not very deep. Every child with autism is different and Wiktor is very social. He communicates with people, he’s open to people, he loves people, but he’s not able to give a lot of attention to people,” she says.
This can lead to him getting distracted at places like the cinema, where people can often be unaware, and hence, less than understanding of Wiktor’s situation.
“They never told me, you know, but you can see in people’s eyes that they do not like it.
“I won’t write on my son’s head ‘I’ve got autism’ just so people will understand. It’s not like he’s misbehaving, it’s how he is. I can’t fix it with discipline or something.”
Wiktor will now sit for almost 45 minutes or “almost a whole movie” at the cinema before he will get distracted, she adds.
The Galway Autism Partnership is currently engaged in a fundraising drive to secure enough support to open its own offices in Galway. The group is appealing for Galway’s people and businesses to donate any old office equipment, laptops, or mobile phones that may be lying around the home or office.
Paulina, who is now a committee member, explains that an office would give the group a space for meetings, lectures and a play area for lego groups and other activities, as well as allowing the group to hire a fundraising manager so it can continue to grow. Membership of GAP stood at around 200 at the start of the year and has grown steadily since.
Paulina notes that it is not easy for her to cope as a mother in a foreign country, which makes the support network afforded her by the Galway Autism Partnership all the more important.
“It’s easier if you know there are more people coping with the same thing that you are”.
To find out more about Galway Autism Partnership or to donate, visit www.galwayautismpartnership.com or call 083-1222302.