Supporting people on the autism spectrum live life independently

Rehab Group, Ireland’s largest disability organisation, recently acquired Aspect, a Cork-based service which helps people on the autism spectrum to live independent lives. Director of Care with Rehab Group, Grainne Fogarty tells us more
Supporting people on the autism spectrum live life independently

Director of Care Rehab Group, Gráinne Fogarty.

THERE is still a low level of understanding of the impact and complexities of autism within the general community.

A diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) does not mean that a person will not be able to date, make friends, attend college, get married, become a parent, reach the pinnacle of their career, or live their life to the full. People with ASD do these things, and more, every day.

What an ASD diagnosis does mean is that the individual will progress differently than people without ASD, and some everyday things that we may take for granted can be so stressful that the individual may often put them off or not handle them in the same way an individual without ASD would.

Aspect is a support service developed specifically for adults with Asperger Syndrome/ High Functioning Autism which was formerly run by the Cork Association for Autism. The service was taken over in the past month by the Rehab Group, Ireland’s largest voluntary disability organisation, bringing an end to an extensive period of hard work by a team of individuals from Aspect, RehabCare and the HSE. The long established and important service provides specialist supports and intervention to 650 people in the Cork and Kerry area.

Aspect aims to promote awareness, education and understanding of Asperger Syndrome, a spectrum condition which can present in many different ways and to varying degrees, including social communication, social interaction, social imagination and sensory processing.

Aspect is one of the only HSE-funded community outreach service for adults with an autism spectrum diagnosis in Ireland. It started serving adults in Cork in 2007 as part of a pilot study for a national scheme to support adults living independently and semi-independently in the community.

Aspect’s aims are “to enable and support people with Asperger syndrome to maximise their independence, utilise their talents and link in to social networks. Person-centred individualised packages of support are arranged based on the individual’s aspirations and goals”.

The evaluations of Aspect’s services have been extremely positive and there are now hundreds of people benefitting from the service in Cork and Kerry. Individuals are offered tailored action plans that may include combinations of one-to-one socialising, group activities, therapeutic counselling, access to occupational therapy and other services as necessary.

The team liaise with educational institutions, medical professionals, housing agencies and employment services on an ongoing basis to support individuals and provide awareness, education and understanding of autism. A keyworker familiar with autism and its traits can be an excellent interpretative sounding board for all kinds of social communication issues – the issues that many people are able to disregard as insignificant may cause intense distress and anxiety to people who struggle to comprehend intent and emotional state.

Thereare also supports to parents and families through regular parental information evenings that are held with guest speakers with expertise in related areas, autism being a diagnosis that affects the whole family. Covid-19 has had an impact on some of the support offered by Aspect and staff have adapted to ensure the individuals accessing the service still have the support that they require.

A person with autism spectrum disorder can live independently as an adult. However, not all individuals achieve the same level of independence. 

The focus of Aspect is to help the individual achieve their highest possible level of independence. 

Because the symptoms of ASD are different for each person, Aspect’s treatment plans are individualised and focused on each person’s passions, interests, and skillsets.

Once a client engages with Aspect there is a three month assessment period. This allows a rapport building process to commence between the client and service. At the end of the assessment period there is a review which provides the client and key worker an opportunity to discuss the client’s engagement with the service and identify areas of support for the future. We treat the journey to independence as just that - a journey. It won’t happen overnight; it will take patience and perseverance to support an individual to become more independent.

It can be extremely difficult for some people on the autism spectrum to live independently. They need skills to acknowledge and manage their emotions safely and consistently. Part of this can be achieved through communication, but it is also necessary to teach coping skills. The beauty of Aspect as a community service is not only does it support individuals to manage issues it encourages them to manage them for themselves. 

For a person to live independently, they must be able to express desires, feelings, and concerns to those they live or interact with. 

Aspect supports individuals by providing the tools that people with ASD can use their whole lives in building strong, lasting friendships, meaningful relationships, and effective communication with employers or employees.

Rehab Group offers a wide range of services to support people with autism. In fact, more than 20pc of the people across all our services are on the autism spectrum. As part of our strategic vision, and our commitment to the people who use our services, we have developed a strategic plan to enhance the many successful elements of our current autism specialist service provision. We aim to work towards offering a seamless pathway of specialist support for people with autism - through which people can continuously progress and reach their full potential. Aspect will play a key role in that strategic goal.

Aspect’s services are provided by RehabCare and are funded by the Health Service Executive (HSE). Access to the service is through assessment by the HSE and subsequent referral to RehabCare.

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