Driving home from one of our mini breaks, we decided to take a different route home and we came to a town we’ve visited before some years back. We came to a roundabout and a sign post caught my eye, I told my husband to stop so I could take a picture. The words on the sign: “Autism-friendly Town”, made me laugh and one of the first things I thought about was businesses will say they know about Autism just to get recognition but why would a town “claim” such title. Could it be to boost tourism? So I had to find out why they boldly put that sign up out of curiosity and what I discovered blew my mind away.

I discovered that last year in Ireland, a whole town in West Cork became the first Autism-friendly town. Woah! That’s amazing! I have seen or heard about Autism-friendly shops, Autism-friendly library opening hours, Autism-friendly opening times at play centres for children but a whole Autism-friendly town to me was just too much for my mind to comprehend.

Questions began to arise in my head. Are there alot of Autistic people living in the town? Does the town have the largest number of Autism specific schools? Does the town have the best Autism resource centre? I mean the questions kept coming to my mind. But what would make a whole town get accreditation for being an Autism-friendly town?

It turns out the first Autism-friendly shop was opened in the town nearly four years ago and since then more people have been made aware of the condition. With the success of the shop, a need to spread the message and training across the town became the next goal. This resulted in 91 organisations included in the preparatory process to undertake engagement and training in 25% of local businesses and voluntary organisations including the GAA, and in half of all local public services.

Engagement and training were also conducted with 50% of school communities in the area and with half of all healthcare professionals. In addition, the role of assistance dogs for families that need them is also recognised. In total, 25%, of the town’s population worked with the process and it has resulted in a three-year town plan to ensure the sustainability of the accreditation. That is pretty impressive!

In my culture there’s a proverb that says ” it takes a village to raise a child ” that means that an entire community or town of people must interact with children for those children to experience and grow in a safe and healthy environment. For a town to go through the process of making sure that it’s environment, schools, shops, businesses, health professionals and public services are inclusive enough for people with Autism they definitely deserve that accreditation and I applaud their efforts and finally say without reservations well done to the town: Clonakilty.

Now this brings me my question: Are you Autism-friendly? Being an Autism-friendly person does not require you to have a doctorate degree in Autism, it just requires you to make yourself more aware about Autism and Autism related issues as well as finding out what you can do. But firstly erase the stereotype of what an autistic person looks like or acts like from your memory before you go any further because every autistic person is so different from another. Then, see the person first and not the autism, mind the language you use, be sensory aware (if it applies), find out the person’s communication skills or ability and meet them at their level, for example, do not talk down to the person by assuming they are not capable, make an effort to include the person (in discussions, conversations, games, sport, etc), spread the word for autism awareness but most importantly keep doing the best you can and if you make a mistake, ask how can I improve next time, because even as a mum, I learn something new everyday and I’m willing to do better.

So are you Autism-friendly?