Tory to become first autism friendly island

TORY is on the road to becoming Ireland’s first autism friendly island with members of the business community receiving training from Autism Awareness Northwest.
The first step was taken last week when a training day was held on the island with business owners, families and members of the school community coming together to hear about the initiative. Shops will now display stickers in their windows to show staff are undergoing autism training and it is hoped that the project will boost tourism on the island.
Emily Bonar, a primary school teacher in Woodland National School in Letterkenny, is a member of the four person Autism Awareness Northwest committee, along with Mary Doohan McCraith, Dinny Ferry and TD Pearse Doherty.
“By creating a greater understanding of Autism and by working with local businesses and tourism attractions we can also make it easier for those on the Autism spectrum to visit and enjoy Donegal,” Emily told the Donegal News.
“We’re delighted that Tory Island have taken the first step in becoming the first island of Ireland to become autism friendly. As a group we facilitate workshops, relevant training and information events to help raise Autism awareness and acceptance. We support local businesses in helping them become more autism friendly and we are delighted with the positive response.”
The group was initially called Autism Awareness Gaoth Dobhair and rebranded at the start of the year, taking in a wider area. Explaining how the group came together Emily said: “I read that Clonakilty was the first village to become autism friendly and I thought we should be doing this. It would benefit every town and we took it from there.
“The aim was to raise an awareness and understanding of autism because people weren’t really aware of what it was. You could have families going into shops and a child might have a melt down and people didn’t understand. I spent a good number of years in special education and had the joy of working alongside children on the spectrum. I thought something has to be done.”
She said they have been getting a great reception from Gaoth Dobhair and the neighbouring areas with businesses coming on board to do what they can to help. This includes putting sensory boxes with sensory toys into business premises which helps children if they get over stimulated.
The training day on Tory Island was due to take place in March but was delayed because of Covid-19. Starting off with the ferry, visitors to the island will be able to make them aware that they are travelling with someone with autism. There will be visual aids to show the child what the boat will look like and who will be driving the ferry as well as new signage on the island.
“Over the course of the year we will visit schools and will provide different strategies and coping mechanisms. We will go to the hotel and suggest a quiet room to use if a child is overstimulated. We will be meeting the different business sections individually  and they will receive stickers and displays at their front window,” said Emily.
“Everyone has been so accommodating and this has been such a rewarding initiative to start. I didn’t realise some of the struggles families are going through until they got in touch with us. It is very positive and seems to be getting bigger and bigger.”
The committee can be reached through their Facebook page Autism Awareness Northwest or by email

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