CLONAKILTY is to celebrate World Autism Day with its own autism-friendly day in the town, on Saturday, April 2nd.
Local resident Patricia O’Leary – the woman behind the successful weekly autism-friendly shopping night in Scally’s SuperValu in the town – is behind the initiative.
‘Most of the shops have already agreed to take part,’ she told The Southern Star. ‘That means they will switch off their music and, where possible, they will also dim their lights. They are also taking up the ‘blue’ theme of World Autism Day, by putting up blue balloons, fairy lights and decorating shop windows in the blue colour,’ she explained.
Patricia, who studies autism at UCC, first approached Eugene Scally last year, for his assistance in organising a shopping evening specifically aimed at parents of autistic children.
Eugene was hugely, and instantly, supportive of her plan. So every Tuesday night, the lights are now dimmed in the shop, and the pager and the music is switched off, making it a much more pleasant experience for people with very sensitive sensory perception – which is a common feature of autism. Now Patricia has moved on to the second item on her own ‘shopping list’ – the autism friendly day.
‘Some of the shops I approached never realised how music and lights can affect autistic children, but once I explained it to them, they were more than willing to get involved. Now if a parent asks them to turn down music while their child is in the shop, they will understand why,’ she explained.
There will even be an autism-friendly movie event in the Park Cinema and there will be two ‘Minions’ going through the town on the day, handing out lollipops to publicise the event.
‘This could be very important for Clonakilty, a tourism town,’ said Patricia. ‘If it gets the name of being an autism-friendly town, then people might even plan their holidays around that.’
Patricia has also organised a special day for parents to get their children’s hair cut – on Mondays in Bandon – as haircuts are particularly stressful for many autistic children.
‘I suggested it to my friend at Linda’s in Bandon, and she was fully behind it. So now, for two hours on a Monday, we have a special event. I have a sensory bean bag that some of the kids love to sit in while getting their hair cut, and there are no smells, no razors, no noise of phones or hairdryers, and it’s much less stressful for parents. We had a little girl last week who got her first ever haircut, at four years of age,’ she said. ‘Linda is very good with them, and if they get a little stressed, she knows to give them time and there is no rush with it.’