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What Next? Conference Highlights Pathways for Autistic Youth in Sligo

The Trinity Centre for People with Intellectual Disabilities (TCPID) is pleased to share the success of the recent international conference, What Next? held at Summerhill College in Sligo on Saturday 25th November 2023.

The conference, focused on pathways into further studies and employment for autistic young people, marked the second of its kind hosted by Summerhill College. The day provided a unique opportunity for young autistic individuals, their families, and employers to gain valuable insights into experiences related to further education and employment.

The Bishop Christopher Jones Centre at Summerhill College, which offers educational support for Autistic students at Summerhill College, played a vital role in introducing the day through a musical performance. Delegates had the opportunity to explore a variety of workshops addressing educational and employment support available to young autistic individuals.

The conference provided a platform for autistic individuals to share their personal journeys in further education and employment. Attendees, including parents and employers, gained valuable insights into the unique experiences and challenges faced by the autistic community.

Distinguished guest speakers included the renowned Dr. Temple Grandin, Stefanie Preissner, Zarah Doyle from ASiAM, and Dr. Yasmeen Multani from the University of Wales within the morning session.

The event also showcased the expertise of TCPID representatives, including National and Schools Coordinator Des Aston, Niamh Biddulph (a TCPID graduate), and Hugo MacNeill, who serves as TCPID Ambassador.

Des Aston from TCPID, School of Education at TCD shared insights into the various supports provided by TCPID for students on their college journey and offered insights on true inclusion. "Belonging is much more about a sense of feeling rather than the physical environment." This perspective influenced the day, underscoring the significance of cultivating a sense of inclusion and connection.

Hugo MacNeill took the stage, emphasising the significance of work experience, graduate internships, and permanent roles. He highlighted the impactful work that TCPID does in connecting students with companies, aiming to develop key employment skills. His insights provided a valuable perspective on bridging the gap between education and the professional world. Hugo called on every company of a certain size to “consider if we could take on a young person with an intellectual disability, or autism.” Hugo stressed how the impact of doing so is transformative on the life of that young person, and their families not to mention the positive impact it will have on their colleagues.

Niamh Biddulph , a remarkable young woman with autism and an intellectual disability, took the stage to share her inspiring journey. Niamh embarked on her academic path by enrolling in the Certificate in Arts, Science, and Inclusive Applied Practice course at Trinity College from 2016 to 2018. Her dedication and hard work culminated in her graduation with an accredited Level 5 certificate on January 26, 2019.

Niamh's post-graduation journey has been nothing short of impressive. She secured internships at esteemed institutions such as Bank of Ireland, A and L Goodbody, and An Post through the TCPID Graduate Internship programme. Remarkably, Niamh transitioned seamlessly from intern to a permanent role as an HR Clerk at An Post, demonstrating her commitment and positive attitude.

Beyond her professional accomplishments, Niamh is a passionate advocate for disability rights – something she associates with learning about human rights and disability rights during her time in Trinty. She recalls learning about the United Nations Convention on the rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) during a ‘Disability Rights’ lecture, and then attending a protest, with her classmates, outside Dáil Éireannn to ratify the UNCRPD. She has since been formally recognised for her advocacy, being appointed as a member of the Disability Participation and Consultation Network. Niamh frequently lends her voice to conferences and webinars, contributing to discussions on disability rights and inclusivity.

Niamh's story encapsulates the transformative power of education and determination, showcasing the possibilities that unfold when individuals are provided with the right support and opportunities. Her experiences resonate with the overarching theme of the conference—creating meaningful pathways for autistic youth into further studies and employment.

"The work of TCPID is truly inspiring, and we are grateful for the valuable insights shared at the What Next? conference," remarked Paul Keogh, Principal of Summerhill College. He pondered, "How can we leverage the learnings from the TCPID model to enhance our educational approach for students with varying abilities, fostering inclusivity beyond the autistic spectrum?". As TCPID continues its commitment to inclusive practices and support for people with intellectual disabilities, the conference served as a catalyst for future collaborations and initiatives.

The Trinity Centre for People with Intellectual Disabilities expresses gratitude to all participants, speakers, and partners who contributed to the success of the What Next? conference.