THE resignation of Susan Crawford of the Green Party from Clare County Council was prompted by an opportunity to take some ground breaking work on autism to the next level, she told The Clare Champion this week.
When a research team approached her about a concept she had been working on, Ms Crawford said she knew she would have to resign from the Council.
“My mind was made up for me for want of a better way of putting it. I was working on a medical device to relieve anxiety for kids with autism and a research team in DCU said they were really interested in driving this on, we want you for the team. I kind of had to make a call then, something had to give.”
She said that to concentrate on the research, she knew she would have to stand down from the Council.
Ms Crawford said work is currently taking place on patenting and intellectual property aspects of the device.
Giving a broad sketch of what it will be, she said, “It’s going to be a device where if you’re getting anxious your heart rate, breathing rate and skin response can be measured.
“Your anxiety levels would be fed into a rucksack that would give you a deep pressure hug to help alleviate the anxiety you are feeling. It’s called a hug octopus, that’s the premise of it. It’s dictated by the individual themselves.”
While she said the idea had been germinating for some time, Covid convinced her to really start work on it. “It was going on in my head for the last good while, and I hadn’t been moving it on. Covid gave me the chance to start working on it. During Covid I was running autism webinars with teachers, SNAs and that.
“The one thing that was coming up all the time was the anxiety of kids who hadn’t access to their schools and parents were finding all that very stressful. I said I better start putting this down on paper and drawing it up right. That’s how it all evolved really.”
Long before she entered politics, autism had been a huge part of her professional and personal life. “It’s been my bread and butter, my own son was 26 when he was diagnosed, my PhD is in autism, I was lecturing and researching in UCC for years. I suppose I’m going back into a space that is specifically autism focused, which suits me.”
While she will leave the County Council after just one year, she says she did enjoy it quite a lot. “The support was mighty, the staff in the Council were brilliant.
“I had never been involved actively in politics, but I came with a green ethos, growing our own, sustainability and that. I enjoyed it, I learned an awful lot. The county councillors were brilliant. The lads in North Clare were just super, in the MD we were very fortunate to have John O’Malley as Senior Executive Officer, he’s from Miltown and I’d have ran and cycled with John over the years. We have great people in our area, so there were a lot of people I could ring up and say what does this mean, or where do you go for this, and talk about things.”
She was glad to have the chance to advance facilities for people with autism through her role on the local authority. “I had put in a motion to know could we look at driving on Clare as having an autism strategy. Everybody unanimously supported that and it was brilliant.
The West Clare MD at the moment is piloting it, autism awareness training has been rolled out for free for the last few months to communities and to groups. The first autism camp started today in Cusack Park which is fantastic. We’ve started giving out sensory kits to the different community groups, to the GAA in Miltown, to churches, so if there is someone autistic in a space and they are getting anxious they can ask their Mam or Dad or whoever is supporting them for it, to help them be less anxious. I’ve just been down in Kilmihil looking at the same approach and how you develop a sensory space for the People’s Park there.
“We’ve been designing communication boards, we’ve two gone up in Miltown, we’ve two being made for Moy and Inagh. I’ve done my own area and the other councillors will do theirs, there’s support for communities to get these done.”
Ms Crawford stresses that things that benefit people with autism benefit everyone else too.
“What’s good for people who are autistic is good for everybody; regulated environments, things calm, things solid, things structured well, have an idea when change is happening. All of these things suit us all.”
She says she did enjoy her time in local politics and feels there were improvements in her area.
“People have been brilliant during my short time in the Council. We have a couple of commemorative gardens built, we have a community garden being built now in Miltown, we’ve redone the playground, we’re just putting in a sensory space, there’s lots of things that have happened during the year, which is great. People locally are fantastic, they really want to support anyone who is driving to drive something positive.”
Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.