Autism awareness group’s boost

Pictured are Donna Shearsmith, Jonah Nye Morris, Claire Morris, Annemarie Mackay, Lynne Smith, Donald John MacSween (PST general manager). Photo by Sandie Maciver of SandiePhotos.
Pictured are Donna Shearsmith, Jonah Nye Morris, Claire Morris, Annemarie Mackay, Lynne Smith, Donald John MacSween (PST general manager). Photo by Sandie Maciver of SandiePhotos.

A Lewis-based group which supports children or adults with autism or other additional needs has received help from community wind farm charity Point and Sandwick Trust to enable it to maximise the use of its sensory toys and equipment.

Autism Eileanan Siar holds regular play sessions and outings for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or additional support needs and also runs a drop-in support group for families who are affected by the condition.

The monthly drop-in support sessions are on the second Friday of every month between 10am and 12pm in the Failte Centre, Bayhead, Stornoway (formerly the Lewis Retirement Centre).

The fun sessions for children are also held monthly, in the Sandwick Community Hall, on a Saturday from 2pm to 4pm although dates vary due to hall availability.

In addition, the group organises a range of events including outings to Spòrsnis in Ness or the Callanish Alpacas, as well as seasonal celebrations such as Christmas parties and Easter egg hunts.

Outwith the group, Stornoway arts centre An Lanntair holds four autism-friendly film screenings a year, which are well attended.

Autism Eileanan Siar pushed for these screenings and it also books out the Adventure Island soft play every second month, so that children can enjoy the facility without becoming overwhelmed by noise.

Donna Shearsmith, chair of Autism Eileanan Siar, said: “Because children with autism and additional support needs can’t handle noise, queuing, etc, we hire out Adventure Island in the evening exclusively. We try to do it every second month and it’s where we have our Christmas party.

“We try to give these children the same experience as neurotypical children but set up in a way they are comfortable with.

“We’re also trying to raise awareness – we’ve done a few things this year, including running a schools competition – and we are inclusive of siblings, so our Saturdays in the hall are family days where everyone can come along.

“It’s good because, if a child has a meltdown, other parents aren’t going to sit and say, ‘look at what that child is doing…’”

The organisation received a substantial grant from Point and Sandwick Trust towards the purchase of a trailer, with ramps for easy access. It is now being used as a mobile store for all the equipment the group uses at their play sessions. This includes trikes, scooters, whizzy dizzy spinning balance toys and sand pits.

Donna said: “The kids love the monthly fun sessions but they’re not just about having fun. The sessions deal with their needs too, like motor skills. It’s all about sensory input.”

Around 35 children from Lewis attend the sessions in Stornoway but the group hopes to eventually go out to areas such as Harris and Ness “to show what Autism Eileanan Siar is all about”.

A wide range of treatments can help people with the Autism Spectrum Disorder and everyone is welcome to the drop-in sessions.

Donald John MacSween, general manager of Point and Sandwick Trust, said the community wind farm charity was pleased to be able to help the group financially and also give them moral support.

He said: “Autism Eileanan Siar provide a fantastic service and are making a real difference in the lives of children who have Autism Spectrum Disorder or additional needs and their families.

“We hope we can help raise awareness of the group and their work so that everyone knows about what they have to offer. With so much support available, it would be a shame if people were missing out and we’re happy to do our bit to help.

“We should remember that Autism Eileanan Siar is run by volunteers, like so many other excellent groups in the community, and these groups only exist because of the volunteers’ hard work and dedication.

“We want to thank them for all that they do. It makes a real difference to people’s lives.”