Anne Walsh, NYCI Equality and Intercultural Programme Manager and co-writer of the resource, describes below the importance of this new chapter:
“I didn’t come into the Equality and Intercultural Programme as an expert on all things inclusion. I don’t think anyone is expected to be, or even can be such an expert. I started with one area of expertise and built whatever understanding I have gained from that base, applying the one key learning that I hold most true – we learn the most from people with lived experience of being from minority identities and who know what it is like to be excluded.
Building my own knowledge about diverse identities has happened, for the most part, while developing Access All Areas Diversity Toolkit, a resource predominately written by youth work practitioners with specialist knowledge. First developed in 2008 it has since grown to over 15 chapters, and is updated regularly.
I keep thinking – this is it – no more new chapters. But NYCI took part in a shared seminar with Maynooth University in 2019 to talk with youth workers and visiting experts on working with Autistic young people. As I listened, took notes, and wondered what the next steps were for the sector, I had the strongest realisation; I needed to capture and share the learning and dedicate a new chapter of Access All Areas to this important work.
I began to learn what I could, I started to write, to seek the best way to reflect what youth workers told us at that seminar. When Youth Theatre Ireland commissioned their own resource on working with Autistic young people in youth drama they generously let me use what I needed to assemble a standalone chapter. It was important that AsIAm were co-authors of that report and before too long I had a chapter ready for peer review. That is when I met Jessica K Doyle who is an Autistic Autism Researcher, who had herself led a youth group when she lived in Galway. Jessica patiently brought the Chapter, and me, on another journey. Interrogating every sentence and expanding the text where relevant, Jessica gave me invaluable understanding and insights into autism and the experiences of Autistic young people. Importantly, she also illuminated how often the text was coming from a neurotypical centric position (a them and us stance, instead of focusing on the importance of building mutual understanding and empathy).
I hope you will learn as much from this resource as I have. My deepest wish is that it will make a positive impact for the many Autistic young people who engage in youth work opportunities in the coming years.”