Autism group playing a big role in raising awareness

Autism Eilean Siar
Autism Eilean Siar

A new mentoring service for autistic people has gained no volunteers, but a Stornoway man has stepped in to provide help.

The National Autistic Society’s (NAS) new scheme helps autistic people by email, telephone, and on a personal basis, with autistic adults in the Western Isles able to use the mentoring service by telephone or e-mail.

But there are no volunteers signed up to the service on the islands to facilitate one-on-one mentoring.

Donald Maclean, chairman of Autism Eileanan Siar, has says his service could provide the physical support that is missing from the NAS initiative.

The group isn’t just Donald’s enterprise, but the result of a collaboration between many important people, who Donald says areb just as vital to the service as he. It is a voluntary organisation made up of parents of children, young people, and adults who have an Austism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

The support service has already achieved so much in Stornoway and across the Western Isles, explaining the way autistic people view the world and how best to deal with their sensitivities.

Autism Eileanan Siar wants to reassure autistic adults that they are not alone and are welcome to come to his support group, which has received funding from the NHS in the past.

“I founded the group just over a year ago”, says Donald, who is full of ideas for helping autistic people - young and old - integrate further into the community and making them feel welcome.

“The person-to-person scheme launched by the NAS is a great idea and it will help a lot of people, but in rural areas there simply aren’t the volunteers to make it work for personal mentoring.”

The group serves two main functions: firstly it provides support for people with autism and their families, and secondly Donald meets with community and business leaders to increase their awareness of autistic people’s challenges.

The group recently enjoyed a special tour on the new Stornoway ferry: MV Loch Seaforth. And Donald will meet this week with representatives from CalMac about establishing a ‘quiet room’ on board the vessel and he is aiming to establish a similar facility on every ferry serving the islands. Autism Eileanan Siar are in big talks with various local businesses and organisations to help make them aware of the needs of autistic people.

Children have been taken on adventure playground activities and been supported to integrate more with others in the face of often difficult social challenges.

The NAS continues to ask that volunteers come forward for its Person-to-Person service.

Jo Hamilton, an NAS spokeswoman, encouraged signing up to this scheme too.

“Stornoway might be off the mainland but the great thing about our Person to Person service is that it offers support to people who need it, wherever they are.

“I would encourage people from the area to get in touch to be matched with a mentor. And we would love to hear from anyone who would like to volunteer and help to increase autism support in Stornoway.”

Autism Eileanan Siar group meets on the second Monday of the month at Newton Community Association, 56 Seaforth Road, Stornoway.

All are welcome and anyone can e-mail with questions about support offered by the group.