AN IRISH AUTISTIC artist met President Michael D Higgins today as part of the celebrations for World Autism Awareness Day.
Colm Isherwood’s artwork is being used by the United Nations Postal Administration (UNPA) who issued stamps today in recognition of World Autism Awareness Day. Colm met President Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin this morning and showed him the original of the painting that is being used on the stamp.
Colm’s father, Eric Isherwood, said the stamp and the artists who designed them will together raise awareness about this important global cause.
“It was wonderful,” he said of meeting the president.
He really went above and beyond. He sat with us for about 45 minutes and we had tea and coffee with him. He was so interested in art, he really loves the arts and he really went all out, he was shaking hands with Colm and posing for photos. He was great.
Colm’s talent for art was discovered by accident, his father recalled.
In the last two years he picked it up. A girl called Áine Crowley, an art facilitator, worked with him. He had his first exhibition in September 2010 and he is currently working on his next exhibition.
Colm and his twin brother Eric are both autistic, and whereas art has a therapeutic affect for Colm, it doesn’t for his twin. “He seems to love it, he channels all that energy into it,” said his father of Colm. “It makes him more relaxed.”
Colm loves abstract colours and his father said “everybody gets something different” out of his paintings. “He was sort of an ambassador for Autism Awareness Day,” said his proud dad.
Colm’s painting (Image: United Nations Postal Administration)
He noted that the latest figures from the US say autism is diagnosed in one out of every 88 children. When the twins were born in 1985, one in every 500 children was diagnosed with autism, and Isherwood says the change is in a large part down to children being diagnosed earlier. He said this is a good thing as it means that children will benefit from early intervention.
However, he noted that many parents and children are “struggling for services, there have been cuts with SNAs and schools”.
I think the good thing now is the diagnosis is being done earlier and hopefully the government will put enough money into early intevention. In the long run it will save a lot of money.
The twins are finished their education and are now in day care in Brothers of Charity services in Cork. While Isherwood says that the Brothers of Charity “can’t do enough to facilitate their needs”, he says this isn’t always the case for other parents. “You have to keep fighting and fighting and fighting for services, unfortunately that is the way,” he said, saying this is why parents are coming together to lobby for changes.
They are not taking it – they are coming together, they are organising events all over the country today. Parents are just saying our children have a voice even though they are voiceless.
He noted that there are many groups around Ireland who support those with autism and their families, and that they may benefit from coming together as one united lobby group.
I think that the government should recognise that these child have potential – Colm is after proving that today – and give them a bit of dignity in life, investing in their future and have them be an inclusive part of society. Just because they have a disability doesn’t meant to say they don’t have a voice, and parents shouldn’t be struggling.
Education and support
The Irish Society for Autism said today that the current approach to the provision of equity of access to care and intervention in helping people with autism in Ireland is no longer appropriate or sustainable.
Speaking at the launch of the new book, Charter of Rights for People with Autism: Reflections and Personal Experiences, Executive Director of Irish Society for Autism Dr Pat Matthews said:
There are deficiencies in the existing model in Ireland. We need a new ‘cradle to the grave’ strategy and framework for the future development of a comprehensive and appropriate structure for education and support of people with autism in Ireland, people who are hitherto a marginalised and misunderstood population.
Next year the Irish Society for Autism will celebrate 50 years of providing services. To mark this it will host Autism Conference Ireland, in partnership with The World Autism Organisation, on 3 and 4 April 2013 in the National Conference Centre, Dublin.
Around the country today, different locations were turned blue to mark the event, including Blarney Castle, which was organised by Autism Assistance Dogs Ireland.