New autism hub to offer support and advice to parents and families

Community-based hub plans to host community talks and provide education around autism and behaviour therapy

A Trim mother whose son has autism has set up a support hub for parents and families of children with autism.

Ellen Rochford's five year old son Finn was diagnosed with autism in 2018 and along with Behaviour Specialist, Maura Collins, she has set up South Meath Autism Support Hub (SMASH).

"The main aim of SMASH is to offer information about autism to support parents and families and to raise awareness and acceptance within our communities. We aim to do this, by hosting community talks to both educate and inspire.

"The main aim of the hub is to let parents know about behaviour therapy and the benefits of this kind of intervention for children with autism and their families."

Ellen explains that when Finn was diagnosed with autism, a group like the Hub would have been a real benefit to her family. Ellen and her husband, Joe have two boys, Noah and Finn.When Finn was just over two, he was diagnosed with autism.

Noah and Finn with mum Ellen Rochford

"We were given a web address as a point of reference to educate ourselves about autism, but I needed more than a web address. I needed community and I needed people .

"It’s my hope the hub will provide this personal support that parents and people with autism need and deserve. I’m hoping the community will come out and support us to make this Hub a place for people, to go to, when they start their autism journey." Ellen, who left her job in Financial Services, when Finn was diagnosed said that at the beginning they were very positive.

"We were pro-active, we were getting early intervention and we though we would overcome all challenges. Nothing could be further from the truth.

"We entered early intervention with Enable Ireland, but the therapy wasn't very successful.

"Then after the lockdown last year, he had regressed significantly and we sought help from a private behaviour therapists and the results have been amazing."

Maura Collins was the behaviour specialist in question. She has 20 years experience working in home and school settings, with both children and adults with ASD, anxiety, OCD, ADHD, intellectual disabilities and behavioural concerns, designing and implementing person centered, evidence-based programmes.

"The difference in Finn in just a few months has been amazing," says Ellen. "Things have just taken off for him."

"Behaviour therapy is holistic, it treats the whole family. Life is much better for Noah now too. The boys are able to play together and he can get on with things." says Ellen

"Before Covid, we couldn't go for walks as a family. Finn could just run off or drop to the ground. He was in a buggy until August of last year and wasn't toilet trained.

"Now he is independent, going everywhere on a scooter Maura taught him to use, and he was toilet trained within three days in March.

"Negative behaviours have been significantly reduced," says Ellen.

"Behaviour therapy is holistic, it treats the whole family. Life is much better for Noah now too. The boys are able to play together and he can get on with things."

Ellen and Maura hit it off when they met and became firm friends. Maura doesn't do much private work as she works in a school.

"We felt there was nothing to support people dealing with autism and that is why we set up SMASH.

"We launched our social media platforms and within a week we had 350 members.

"The demand is there. We intend to have community talks and provide education around autism and the interventions that aren't advertised because the government doesn't fund them.

"Maura came into our lives and opened everything up. I'd just love for other parents to know about it.

"We will be teaming up with other professions in the field, occupational therapists and speech and language therapists.

"It will be sometwhere for parents to go when they need help or information."

Maura explains that Applied Behaviour Analysis is a therapy where the learner receives an abundance of positive re-enforcement for demonstrating useful skills and socially appropriate behaviours.

“It is effective for all ages and can help increase language and communications skills, improve attention, focus and social skills, memory and academic skills and reduce negative behaviour.”

Ellen, who recently qualified as a Special Needs Assistant is looking forward to helping other families through the hub and things are looking up for her family as Finn is currently a happy little boy attending St Michael's Autism Centre in Trim.