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Donncha Murphy and his dad Adrian combine forces with Faye Tuohy, Elizabeth Mc Nicholas and Shane Raftery, to pull Tug-O-War at the Clare GAA Autism Activity Camp held in Cusack Park in conjunction with Clare Sports Partnership. Photograph by John Kelly

Autism activity GAA camp at Clare HQ hailed a success

THE recent Autism Activity GAA Camp held at Cusack Park, Ennis has been hailed a success by the organisers and participants, writes Dan Danaher.

Fifty-five children ranging in age from six to 13 with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) enjoyed a wide variety of activities including parachute games, ball games, obstacle courses, foam javelin, tug-of-war, hurling and a variation of tag rugby thanks to the assistance of more than 40 coaches, volunteers and helpers during the three days.

They were also given the opportunity to play hurling, if they wished during the second hour of the camp.

Every morning children were given sensory activities to regulate their sensory needs before the start of the two-hour session.

Clare GAA provided about 17 coaches, which included camogie players and ladies’ footballers. Clare Ladies’ footballer, Ellie O’Gorman helped out as a volunteer for the three days. She was joined by Aidan McCarthy, Aine O’Loughlin and Clare footballer Darragh Bohannon, who also visited the camp.

On Thursday, children were also treated to ice cream and a visit of a garda car.

The organisers included Clare GAA, Clare Sports Partnership, Derg AC, Louise Fitzsimons of Tulla AC, EVA, Clare Crusaders, CEIS and Enable Ireland Children’s Services, special needs assistants and teachers from St Anne’s School.

Clare Sports Partnership disability inclusion officer, James Murrihy said the camp exceeded his initial expectations.

“We are over the moon with the response. We will be starting to plan for next year over the coming weeks. All the children received a Cúl camp kit.

“I would to see other sporting organisations provide camps for children with other special needs and follow the lead of Clare GAA. We hope to get all the stakeholders together in the near future and make the camp bigger and better next year.

Ennis Voices for Autism are delighted with the success of the recent Autism Activity GAA Camp at Cusack Park.

The feedback the group have received from parents of children with Autism has been fantastic. The whole programme was really well run and it was obvious that the Clare Sports Partnership and Clare GAA put a lot of time and effort into the arrangements.

“The majority of our children would never be able to attend conventional summer sports camps, and so we are very grateful to James Murrihy and the team at Clare Sports Partnership for running this. Its essential that we include people with ASD, children and adults.

“They deserve to experience the same simple joys as everyone else. EVA would like to appeal to everyone to keep this in mind in their day to day lives. Inclusion and acceptance are important when dealing with people who have all types of disabilities,” said EVA secretary, Gearoid Mannion.

Kevin Lynch, Sixmilebridge, was one of the Cúl Camp coaches who completed Autism training with Susan Crawford before the camp.

“The camp was brilliant for the children. I was lucky enough to get a thank you note addressed to me and every coach. I heard a child saying there was no way he wasn’t coming back next year.

“One parent told me it was great to have a summer camp to include children with Autism who get excluded so much. This child wouldn’t have been able to manage at a standard Cúl Camp.

“It was great these children had a camp to attend. All the children enjoyed so many activities in a safe place.
Michelle Ryan, Inch, said her son, Andrew, (9), who has ASD, really enjoyed this dedicated camp, which was located in a very central location with coaches who were very enthusiastic and engaging with children.

“It was clear from the outset there was a huge amount of organisation completed by Clare Sports Partnership. There was an involvement from CEIS and volunteers from the Brothers of Charity and familiar faces from Clare Crusaders’ Camps in the past.

“While there was a wide variety of activities for children, there was no pressure on them to do an activity they didn’t feel comfortable completing. There was a flexibility built in unlike most camps can be very rigid and too structured for children with ASD.

“Movement breaks and a sensory station for children with high sensory needs were provided. It was so well thought out and planned. It was the first activity our children were able to take part in since Covid-19 lockdown.

“It gave them an opportunity to meet with other children they had met through EVA safely outdoors. All the children were also to participate in activities they enjoyed. We can’t wait again for the camp again,” she said.

She added the high ratio of coaches to children helped them to participate in the camp.

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