To coincide with World Autism Awareness month, National Learning Network training centres across the South East will host a National Open Day on Wednesday, April 5th at 11am.
It will focus on autism support.
People can visit NLN locations in every county to see the various learning options with pathways to further education, higher education, and jobs.
Events will be held in Carlow, Waterford, Kilkenny, Tipperary, and Wexford.
The specialist education body has supported almost 800 people with autism and Asperger’s into employment or further education in the last five years.
In recent years, significant progress has been made in increasing awareness and acceptance of autism.
However, Autistic people still face discrimination and barriers to access and participation in all aspects of society, including education and work in Ireland.
NLN has a large autistic community, with almost 40% of the student population identifying as autistic.
It provides inclusive education and training opportunities with specialist student supports to promote student success in personal, vocational, and occupational goals.
Speaking to Beat News, Johnny Pettit, South East Manager with NLN, explained some of the work they do:
"Part of our introduction is making sure people have a clear understanding of their diagnosis and of their needs so that we can support them best. I think in summary, the most important thing we do is make people feel really comfortable in our training centres so that we can help them to set a plan and set goals about what it is they need to progress in their lives."
He added that people who don't live with autism also have a role in understanding that everyone is different:
"Neurotypical people, who don't have autism, have a role to play in understanding that there are different ways of functioning. So, this is not a disorder, we just have to understand how people function.
I think in that sense, that's why people buy into us and realise we understand that if you've had to cope with autism by doing certain things and masking it, we demonstrate that it's okay to be yourself."
Nicholas Foote, 33, from Tramore, Co Waterford, knew he was autistic for a very long time before he finally got an official diagnosis.
"I was suspected of being autistic when I was in primary school, and I knew I was different, but there wasn't much understanding in those days. It wasn't until my late twenties that I got a private assessment, and it was confirmed that I was autistic. It was just four years ago.
“I've always known I was different. I had a gift for things like working with my hands, understanding systems very quickly, and computing. It's an autistic trait to get fixated on those things, but my deficits were things like social interactions. I had lots of difficulties with communication in that I would always agree with people no matter what they said, which obviously caused me a lot of challenges in my life not being able to say no or give my actual opinion. I worked as a railway engineer for many years, but as an undiagnosed autistic person, I often felt burned out as I couldn't access the support I needed.
Nicholas contacted National Learning Network's Cara Autism Support Service in Waterford, which proved to be a real turning point in his life.
"It was a huge relief to get my diagnosis and stop feeling this imposter syndrome. Everything I have now is because of NLN. The support I got was amazing. I sought help with my executive functioning; these are self-regulation skills and the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember, and juggle multiple tasks. I signed up for a one-to-one course to help me process day-to-day things, which most people find easy but can be so challenging for an autistic person.
“NLN also helped me get a job that suits me and doesn't leave me burned out. I now work for an insurance company in Waterford, it's a lovely experience, and I have fully disclosed my autism diagnosis, and I am supported."
If you or a member of your family is autistic and looking for an autism-friendly route to pursue your career goals, drop into your nearest National Learning Network centre on April 5th at 11am, meet the staff and find out how NLN supports autistic students to gain qualifications, progress to further education, and pursue careers.
Email: [email protected] or visit www.nln.ie to find your nearest centre.