Jim Lynch, divison manager DEASP, Kay Broderick, supervisor, DEASP, Adam Harris, CEO, AsIAm, Denise Houlihan, DEASP, Neil Hoefig, DEASP and Helen Mulqueen, Intreo Limerick Picture: Adrian Butler
LIMERICK’S Department of Social Protection Office has become Ireland’s first public services building to facilitate clients on the autism spectrum.
A special sensory room has been created by the generosity of staff in the Dominic St building, and is available on request for clients with autism or issues such as anxiety.
The creation of the facility was made possible by the generosity and goodwill of staff members working within the Limerick branch, who are encouraging other public services buildings to follow suit.
Speaking at the launch of the facility on Friday, July 5, was Adam Harris, CEO and founder of AsIAm, an organisation which works with work places in making them more autism-friendly.
“What struck me about this scheme is the enthusiasm,” said Adam, “people desperately want to do the right thing. It’s great to see an organisation that’s so proactively wanted to address this issue, and wanted to do it the right way.
“We’re really impressed with the level of commitment that’s being made by Intreo in Limerick – it really captures all that’s good about public service.
“Unfortunately 85% of autistic people are either unemployed or underemployed, so a disproportionate amount of our community would access these services.2
Denise Houlihan, higher executive officer at the Limerick office said: “Every single member of staff was on board, they were full of goodwill and enthusiasm. They want to help, and make things better for people.”
The idea for the room came to Denise in the autumn upon noticing how some clients struggle with over-stimulation during appointments.
“We have a few clients who are on the spectrum, and they really struggle when the come in here. It’s a big, loud, bright and noisy office and they’re being bombarded by a lot of visual information and verbal information,” said Denise.
“It’s a lot for a neurotypical person to process, I can’t imagine how distressing it must be for somebody with autism.”
In what was very much a joint effort, the room was pieced together over the course of a few months, with funds for the creation of the room gathered internally among staff.
The result is The Blue Room: a quiet, calm room with wheelchair access fit with dimming-lights and various other calming objects.
Fellow staff member Helen Mulqueen, Intreo office manager added: “Every member of staff knows someone on the spectrum and were able to empathise with the whole project”.
“We’ve also had clients come in with children with autism, and it can be quite a distressing situation when the child suffers from a sensory overload.”
“My biggest fear is that someone could walk into the office and just walk back out without accessing the supports they’re entitled to,” said Denise.
“These are the people who fall through the cracks.”
All 58 staff members in the office have received training from AsIam on how best to assist those on the autism spectrum.
“There is a saying that says ‘if you get it right for the person with autism, you get it right for everyone’, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Kay Broderick, supervisor at the Limerick office says: “Good old-fashioned Irish jealousy will ensure that other buildings around Ireland will follow suit and get their own room.”
To avail of the service, clients can contact 061-212200 or email email@example.com and ask for the Blue Room, and staff members will meet them at the entrance to the building.