Academics Team Up For ‘Simple Steps’ Autism Support Package

University of Ulster academics have teamed up with a local charity to produce a support package for parents of children with autism. Simple Steps, which will contain a DVD, as well as hard copy support material for those living with autism and professionals treating it, is the first of its kind in Europe.

And UU lecturer and chairperson of charity PEAT (Parents’ Education as Autism Therapists) Dr Tony Byrne, who has two children with autism – Megan (14) and Mikey (9) – said the multi-media tool was long overdue.

“When our first child was diagnosed with autism, we were offered bereavement counselling,” he said. “My wife Helen and I were shocked and bewildered. Then we realised that there’s little support out there for families at all if the child is diagnosed young, so it’s really up to yourself.”

The multi-media communications package should be available in May for parents and professionals and it is hoped that the DVD will be translated into a number of languages to be distributed world-wide.

“We joined our local charity to help us adjust to our situation,” said Dr Byrne. “Now, we at PEAT thought it would be great if someone could provide parents with a complete and comprehensive support package that answered the questions that they need answered.

“We believe that Simple Steps is such a resource. The whole idea is to show parents and therapists – using Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) programmes – working with kids with autism to create the resource. “

Senior lecturer Dr Mickey Keenan, from UU’s School of Psychology in Coleraine, has been working with Dr Stephen Gallagher from PEAT and a local multi-media communications company called DIMEX on the support package. Funding was received from both the Big Lottery and BBC Children in Need.

Dr Byrne added that the development of the DVD was an enormous task. “We have completed a pilot version of the Simple Steps DVD and 50 copies of this have been sent out to PEAT parents for evaluation and feedback,” he said. “Once that feedback has been assessed and considered we will move into full scale production of the final support package.”

The DVD is expected to be launched in May and 1,000 free copies will be distributed to parents of children with autism and 100 will be given to professionals working with the children.