New service for Adults with autism

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.

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  • Croiteir

    Apart from diagnosing the situation what is the point?

  • the keep

    Really good blog Andy as a society we really should be doing more about this keep up the good work

  • Brian O’Neill

    The point is that autism is very underdiagnosed issue. Andy’s post is a handy pointer to the various local services that people who suspect they may have the condition.

  • AndyB

    The point is the ongoing support which ASD people need to integrate effectively into society. Some need more than others – for example, I need understanding more than anything else, where others might need more active help.

  • Granni Trixie

    I found your piece v educational Andy and welcome your input into a political discussion group like this. I do not have close knowledge of Autism or ASD but I had awareness raising in the course of a project and followed up with internet research, through interest. In general however I do think the conditions suffers from lack of pubic and professional awareness as to its nature.
    From reading lists of symptoms and observing seems to me that v. many more people have the condition to some degree than we know….including those in public life many of whom I suspect manage their ‘difference’ without a diagnosis, infact maybe positives arising (such as exceptional memory) is exactly why they succeed in certain fields (politics anyone?). I am aware however of the other end of the spectrum where some people lead v limited lives indeed and that for some, especially most affected, the problem needs to be identified in order to identify what can help.
    I suspect what underlies the question ‘what’s the point’ of diagnosis is the thinking that nothing can be done to improve the situation plus it bypasses the personal development needs of individuals affected. I hope I have said enough to convey that I believe there all to be won by not burying our heads in the sand on this one and so it is an advance that Autism and ASD are one of those conditions now finding its voice.

  • Karla

    For anyone in the Northern Trust, the Northern Adult Autism Advisory Service (NAAAS) offers the same service in Ballymena (Braid Centre) in collaboration with NAS (contact Heather McCarroll, ASD co-ordinator for details).

  • AndyB

    Thank you, Karla. If you hear of similar facilities in Southern, Western or South Eastern please let me know too.

  • AndyB

    Thanks Trixie. I know that over the decades (I’m 42 now) I’ve learned to adapt to normal (near enough!) adult life, including finally being old enough to pass my driving test in 2009. Most aspies do, while kids find it a lot harder to hide – and no two aspies are quite the same!