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04 Oct 2022

Nenagh's A-Team club is looking to a bright future for children with autism

Nenagh's A-Team club is looking to a bright future for children with autism

A-Team Youth Club committee members Ailish Cleary and Diane Maher with fundraising concert organisers Albert Purcell, Mike Murphy and Ned Kelly outside At Mary of the Rosary Church Pic: Matt Whitby

If no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the A-Team, was how the Eighties’ TV show The A-Team opened.

And for a new youth club in north Tipperary - appropriately called the A-Team Youth Club - not only can they help, but they are all set to expand and grow.

The A-Team Youth Club based in Nenagh is the brainchild of Ailish Cleary and was set up to cater for children with autism and at the same time to give support to parents of children with autism.

Ailish’s daughter Niamh, 12, was diagnosed with autism and Ailish got the ball rolling for a youth club after talking to people in Dublin with experience in working with children with autism.

She reached out to others in a similar position and was astonished by the response, with almost 90 children between the ages of three and 16 already signed up for the new club within its first nine months.

The club operates out of the Rehab premises in Nenagh, but already there is a need to look for a bigger premises and Youth Work Ireland Tipperary are seeking a more suitable premises in the town to cater not just for the needs of children with autism, but to have a location where a youth café could ultimately be developed that would facilitate all children.

“All the parents say the same things. They want their children to have friends and to be in a place where they are understood and have opportunities to socialise. It’s a youth club with a different slant,” said Ailish, who pointed out that the club is also a place where parents of children with autism can also come to connect as a group and have the chance to share what they are dealing with and not feel lonely.

Those who take part in the club have nothing but positive things to say about it.

Sean Holland, from Newport, said his son Aaron, 12, loves attending the club, and it gives him a chance to get out and meet other parents.

“He has taken to it like a duck to water. I went in thinking he was going to end up being stuck by my side all the time, but to my surprise he engaged with everyone - children and adults,” he said.

One of the club’s founders and its current treasurer Diane Maher, described the club as a place where children with autism can “just be themselves”, but also a haven for parents to share their feelings with like-minded adults.

“Unless you have a child with autism you do not really get the struggles involved,” she said. “They say it takes a village to raise a child but it takes a town to raise a child with autism, and Nenagh really needs to get behind this.”

And the people of Nenagh and north Tipperary can take the first steps getting behind the club by supporting a major fundraising concert in St Mary’s of the Rosary Church in the town on September 3 at 8pm when the Celtic Tenors will perform along with Ned Kelly’s In Tune for Life Orchestra and the High Hopes Choir.

The concert is being organised in conjunction with the team behind the local Christmas Tractors Parade of Lights. Tickets, which include a cheese and wine reception, can be purchased for €40 in Easons, Nenagh; Slatterys, Pearse Street, Nenagh, or by contacting 087-2430546.

Ailish Cleary, meanwhile, pointed out that the aim of the A-Team Youth Club was not to try to make the children fit into society.

“It’s more we want the community to fit around these kids. They do not need to change - we need to change - and I think the people of Nenagh could really nurture this club and its community and create the space for it,” she said.

What Ailish would like to see is that the team behind the Nenagh project would become advocates for a similar model of youth support provision that would be rolled out in towns across the country, and that Nenagh would become an autism-friendly town.

As BA in the original A-team liked to say: “I love it when a plan comes together.”

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