Rather underreported in the media (with the creditable exception of the Newry Democrat) is the Belfast Adult Autism Advice service (BAAAS), which I visited yesterday afternoon.
Available from 1.30pm to 4.30pm every Tuesday in Belfast Central Library, I came into the room to be welcomed by my own Occupational Therapist from the Belfast Trust Adult Autism Diagnosis team (I was diagnosed in February) and met representatives from the Disability Employment Service of DEL and the Cedar Foundation.
The aim is to provide a “First stop shop” providing advice and guidance to adults and young people over 16 with a diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder and those who support them in the Belfast area.
Key offerings are:
- A safe and friendly space to speak to people who understand autism
- Information about services, such as housing, Social Security benefits, careers, employment, community groups and activities, health information, carer support, and education and training
- As the service develops there will be opportunities to meet with other people with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to share experiences
- Group sessions to help increase understanding about how autism can affect you, discuss the experience of receiving a diagnosis, and learning about other support services.
This is all important, because while many people with ASD, especially those with high-functioning ASD (formerly known as Asperger’s syndrome but now recognised as part of the fuller autistic spectrum) have good jobs and relationships, the non-standard responses and behaviours we demonstrate can make both difficult or near impossible (indeed, Specialisterne is dedicated to matching ASD people with careers in IT which make best use of their abilities), and self-care can be an issue for ASD people.
I’ve been through the four month diagnosis process with the dedicated Adult Autistic Diagnosis team in Belfast trust, which involves a series of interviews with an experienced clinical psychologist looking at your behaviours (including the things where you have no problems!); the administration of WAIS-IV, a very broad based intelligence test used for how it shows up behaviours and ways of thinking; ADOS, an hour-long session showing how you communicate including story telling and conversation; and interviews with your parents and family (where practical) on how you were when you were growing up. My school reports also came into play in a process that focuses on functional difficulty – whether your living on the autistic spectrum causes problems in your daily life.
The most nervous part was the morning I received my diagnosis, but the key thing that day once I was put out of my misery, and ever since, is that the diagnosis hasn’t changed me. I’m still Andy Boal, and high-functioning ASD is who and what I am. The only thing I suffer from is the attitudes of others, but again the diagnosis helps them and me understand who I am and why I think, solve problems and respond the way I do. I wouldn’t change it for the world.
I will be back soon enough, perhaps bringing the key person who supports me – my wife!
More information about BAAAS is on the Cedar Foundation website. If you think you or a friend may be on the Autistic Spectrum, talk to your GP about assessment options – Belfast has its dedicated adult diagnosis team, but I don’t yet know what is available in other Trust areas.