Short Breaks Service – World Autism Day 2 April 2021

1st April 2021

World Autism Day celebrates the lives of those living with an autism spectrum disorder and raises awareness about the condition and the need for prompting equal access to services, addressing potential stigma and overcoming any oppression associated with an autism spectrum diagnosis. Globally, it is estimated that 1 in 160 children has an autism spectrum disorder. Locally, in Northern Ireland, 1 in 24 children have a diagnosis of autism (DHSSPS, 2020).

Where there is an assessed need, the short breaks service supports children and young people with a diagnosis of autism and an accompanying disability through the provision of short break respite in a carers home. Approximately 25% of individuals with autism will have an accompanying learning disability.

In Northern Ireland legislation (Autism Act NI 2011), Autism is classed as a social communication disability. It can affect the way an individual relates to people, situations and the environment.

Autism is lifelong and affects the social and communication centre of the brain. Autism affects the way an individual relates to people, situations and the immediate environment. Many individuals with autism have difficulty processing everyday sensory information like sight, smells, touch, tastes and sounds.

Autism is a spectrum condition which affects each person in an individual way. Whilst everyone on the autism spectrum shares a range of particular difficulties, each individual is different, with a wide range of abilities and needs. Some people with autism are able to live independent lives; others need assistance at particular times in their life, whilst others may need a lifetime of specialist support.

Statistics show that there are approximately four males diagnosed with autism for every one female diagnosed. However, we know that it is sometimes harder to diagnose females with autism and therefore this statistic can hide the true number of females with autism.

Short Breaks was previously known as the Shared Care Scheme but this changed to the Short Breaks service in 2016. The short breaks service is designed to offer respite for parents/carers of children with a disability through the provision of care at home in a carers house. One young person who avails of short breaks on a regular basis is Sam, age 14.

Sam is 14 years old and has a diagnosis of autism, a learning disability and some sensory processing issues. Sam has regular short breaks with his carers twice a month, Mark and Lisa. Sam loves to go for walks with his carers and to local parks. For Sam’s parents and family this is invaluable, Sam’s mum states, “It can be difficult to go out shopping with Sam as often the sensory overload is too much for him; this can make shopping times rather difficult. Having regular short breaks means that we as a family can plan stuff around Sam and know that he is in good care.

“We are really grateful for the short breaks service and what it has done for us as a family. It has been a lifeline which affords us time for ourselves and time to switch of, we can go out for something to eat and it has been great to spend more time with our daughter.

“Having short breaks allows Sam’s sister a break too, not just us. She has made a lot of sacrifices as a sibling of a child with a disability so it’s great for her to have a break too. We always know that Sam is well looked after with his carers, they are really trustworthy and open about everything, they are great at what they do. Sam has formed a good relationship with his carers, he has been with them around 4 years now and seems to look forward and enjoy going to stay with them.

“As Sam has got older it has been difficult to manage as he can sometimes act out when frustrated or when he experiences sensory overload, this can be hard to manage, without the support of the fantastic short break carers we would have struggled to cope. We are really lucky to have them there for support.”

Where a need has been assessed, the short break service is designed to support parents of children or young people with a disability, many of whom have a diagnosis of autism. We do this through the amazing work of our carers, such as Mark and Lisa, who provide a safe and meaningful caring experience for children and young people. Our carers are the backbone of our service and are intrinsic to its success.

As the prevalence of autism rates continue to rise and our waiting list is steadily growing we need more carers now than ever before. This is due to the additional pressures facing parents such as Sam’s, particularly so during Covid-19 lockdowns. We currently have around 35 children who are waiting on a short break.

We are actively recruiting for new carers who can offer their time to provide a short break for a child or young people with a disability. We offer allowances, support forums, training and the support of a dedicated link worker. You don’t need any special skills or qualifications just a motivation to provide safe and warm care, and the patience and resilience sometimes required to do so.

Could you be a short breaks carer? Click here to contact us.