Support in the Déise Circle

The newly established Déise Circle Support Group is aimed at providing support to families, partners and friends of adults with autism.

Déise Circle Support Group is a new support group for families, partners and friends of adults with autism. Rather than focusing on the individual themselves, the idea behind the establishment of the group is to reach out to family members, partners and friends of adults with autism who may be seeking support. Déise Circle has developed as an offshoot of the Cara Outreach Support Service which provides specialised supports for adults with autism, under auspices of the National Learning Network which is based locally at Unit 7 on the IDA Industrial Estate, Cork Road, Waterford.

Marion Ashley, Amanda Fox, Adam Harris (Guest Speaker), Kitty Galvin Hennessy, John McCraith, Francis Jacob, Deborah Kelly and Nuala Walsh. Photos: Mick Wall.

Marion Ashley, Amanda Fox, Adam Harris (Guest Speaker), Kitty Galvin Hennessy, John McCraith, Francis Jacob, Deborah Kelly and Nuala Walsh. Photos: Mick Wall.


“Our service is small but we endeavour to provide as much support as we can,” explained John McCraith who leads the programme.
The service began 10 years ago with one individual being supported and has now expanded to seeing support be provided to more than 70 individuals. “The Cara Outreach Support Service is for the individual themselves, but over 80 per cent of individuals with autism are dependent on family members. Where do they find support? Often, when we talk about autism, the conversations are about children with autism, but all those children grow up to be adults and their issues, concerns and needs become very different,” says John.

The Déise Circle Support Group is designed to foster a sense of camaraderie among those who are living with or caring for an adult with autism.The aim is to allow people to ask questions and share their concerns and stories in a comfortable setting and to meet with others who have shared experiences. “We welcome people with autism but at Déise Circle the emphasis is on the family members and partners of people with autism,” explained John.The main message of the Déise Circle Support Group is a message of hope in order to let people know that various supports are available. “Our hope is that this support group will provide people with hope. If your adult son or daughter has autism and you have concerns, you’re not alone,” says John. “Unfortunately many people do feel alone. There may have been lots of supports available during the school years but, after reaching 18, those supports tend to vanish.”

Through having guest speakers and facilitating various get-togethers, John hopes that a sense of hope can be fostered among all those who decide to become involved with the Déise Circle Support Group. “The idea is to empower parents, partners and family members and to give a new perspective in order to allow them to combat their sense of isolation,” he said.
On Wednesday February 6th, at the inaugural meeting of the Déise Circle Support Group, the guest speaker was Adam Harris who is Chief Executive Officer of ‘As I Am’ (www.asiam.ie) ‘As I Am’, which Adam founded in 2013, is Ireland’s national charity and advocacy organisation for the autism community and is a powerful practical based resource for families.
Adam (brother of Health Minister Simon Harris) established the group based on his own experiences of growing up as an autistic person in Ireland. He was diagnosed with Asperger’s at an early age, at a time when the condition was far less understood than it is today.

Pictured are National Learning Network Staff Members Majella O’Grady, Kitty Galvin Hennessy, Maria Griffin, Ailish O’Brien, Claire Harper, Amanda Fox and Margaret Walsh.

Pictured are National Learning Network Staff Members Majella O’Grady, Kitty Galvin Hennessy, Maria Griffin, Ailish O’Brien, Claire Harper, Amanda Fox and Margaret Walsh.


Adam is a passionate autism activist and regularly travels around Ireland to deliver his inspirational talks to different groups including at many schools. In Waterford, he outlined the challenges he faced from an early age and how these challenges changed as he grew older. Speaking without notes for well over an hour, Adam delivered a powerful personal account which enthralled audience members. Commenting after his impressive speech, John McCraith praised Adam’s powerful message. “Adam gave a lot of inspiration and a new perspective. He brings a fresh, positive and hopeful perspective” he said. However, John points out that Adam’s remarkable story isn’t always replicated by others. “Adam is very articulate and social but that isn’t necessarily the experience of others. Many other people may have more significant challenges,” he explained.

“And if you have someone in your family who is challenged, it can be an isolating place for that family. Coming to sit and share experiences with other parents, and getting a different perspective, creates a sense of positivity and hopefulness.” John, who is a psychotherapist specialising in autism, explained that huge progress has already been made through the Cara Outreach Support Service and he hopes this will be replicated with the Déise Circle Support Group. “We’re not the solution to everything but we like to think we’re an important part,” he said. “We have helped people go from unemployment to employment, from isolation to integration. For many, it’s about finding their place in the world. Unfortunately, many feel isolated and disconnected.”
John says mental health issues can arise if the right supports are not in place.

However, if the correct practical supports are given, he says the conversations can become “hopeful conversations”.
Parent Deborah Kelly attended the talk by Adam Harris and is delighted to be part of the Déise Circle Support Group.
Having progressed through the National Learning Network, her 25-year-old son is now onto the next chapter in his life.
“As a parent you’re desperately searching for information and hope for your child. Thankfully, there has been an acceleration of awareness in recent years. Education is key,” she says. Deborah hopes the Déise Circle Support Group will allow parents to begin dialogues with each other in a safe setting where they can share and discuss their anxieties, worries and fears for the future.
“By sharing stories, you can find hope from other people’s experiences,” she said. Deborah was hugely impressed by Adam’s speech and has found the ‘As I Am’ website to be a very beneficial resource since its establishment.

Many other parents, family members, partners and friends of adults with autism were in attendance at the recent inaugural event.
John McCraith says one of the overall aims is to develop an environment where all people with autism can grow and reach their full potential. With this in mind, it’s important that all those connected to people with autism are equipped with all of the correct supports. “Not every county in Ireland has something like this. We’re working hard to sustain and develop it and we’re adding new dimensions,” he explained. John hopes that similar events featuring different guest speakers will be held every six months.
The next guest speaker, on Wednesday March 20th, is Dr Linda O’Rourke, a Dublin based consultant psychiatrist who has specialist training in general adult psychiatry, psychiatry of intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder.The Déise Circle Support Group is certain to be an invaluable service for all involved and, with such an enthusiastic and dedicated team on board, will surely go from strength to strength.

For more information, visit the Déise Circle Support Group Facebook page or contact John McCraith on 086-4620661 or email john.mccraith@nln.ie

For full story see The Munster Express newspaper or
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