Circle of Support (COS) for Autism Families, is a registered charity based in Derry/Londonderry. COS was founded in 2011 by a small group of parents of children with autism attending the same nursery, who decided to work together for mutual support after their children were diagnosed with autism.
Having overcome the alarm and the shock of initial diagnosis, the group were particularly galvanised into action on being informed by a well-meaning health worker: There's a lot that can be done for children with autism nowadays, so please do come back to us when they are 8! Their children actually ranged from ages 2 to 3 years. Unanimously deciding that they simply could not waste 5 or 6 precious years of potentially vital help for their children COS for Autism Families was born, becoming a registered charity in 2012.
They began by setting up a website called Autism What's Next, where parents with autistic children could support one another and share all sorts of helpful information. This helped bring about a well-attended Summer Scheme with lots of fun activities for children and families. They also ran a few fundraising events and coffee mornings as donations and wider interest began to grow.
Today, COS is managed by a small committee who are all parents of autistic children which now includes new as well as founding parents. COS is a cross community organisation with an 8-year successful track record of all communities working together at the local level to tackle a single issue to help create a better shared future for all. We now support more than 400 local families with autistic children with numbers increasing monthly. New families often say how much they value COS support as it can often be overwhelming to come to terms with your child's autism diagnosis, much less be able identify positive pathways forward.
COS want to make a practical difference to children and young people and their families by providing a strong support network. Living with autism can be very daunting for families with all the difficulties and challenges that it entails. Many parents feel very isolated and that nobody really understands the daily pressures. Support networks can be a tremendous source of help to families.
Strong support networks enable parents to share information with one another, such as details on therapies or programmes, stories and experiences of living with autism and advice on the different range of professionals they will need to deal with. Through COS, parents can get to hear about training workshops, school services, and attend events that may be beneficial, including social outings. Other benefits include the opportunity to forge long-lasting friendships with other families through attendance at our events throughout the year.
We aim to make a practical difference to children and young people with autism and their families by providing a strong support network and a range of activities and services available to all and any families and children in need. Some examples of our activities in this year include:
- Weekly sensory swimming sessions in the local leisure centre, Foyle Arena, where the pool is closed to the public for private ASD sessions.
- Providing education and training and for parents in areas such as Occupational Therapy, Behaviour Management and Sensory Processing.
- Annual summer scheme with family trips to science centres, fun farms and planetarium.
- Hosting guest speakers such as those from statutory agencies e.g. Educational Psychologists and other Therapists providing useful information on services to families.
- Including autism families in local events such as St. Patricks Day parade and Halloween & Christmas Events.
- Sensory screenings in local cinemas where volumes and lights are lowered.
- Raising autism awareness amongst local businesses and shopping centres and helping them to make their locations more welcoming and inclusive and autism friendly.
- Special events on the Annual Autism Awareness Day and an Acceptance Walk on World Autism Awareness Day in April each year involving hundreds of local families.
- Regular coffee mornings and evenings for parents for information sharing and mutual support.
We are running this campaign to help with the new centre we are currently building/refurbishing for children and young people with autism and their families in a large unit in Springtown Industrial Estate, Derry/Londonderry. Our Saturday Club and information sessions are currently unable to run as the loaned building we were using has been demolished.
We urgently require capital funding in order to complete our new space in order to make it fit for purpose. Much of the work completed to date has been done by volunteer parents who have trades skills such as joiners, electricians and painters/decorators. We now require funding in order to move the building on to the next stage, which is where your help would be greatly appreciated., to build out our soft play areas, therapy rooms and multi-purpose area.