I work in Letterkenny two/three days a week. These are, what my youngest nephew calls “days on”, which I suppose makes sense, since weekends with no work (or school in his case) are days off. It’s a phrase my family use regularly now!
Anyway, today was a day off, and apart from getting up early and doing my shopping in the morning, I had no plans for the rest of the day. The weather was going to be very hot, so I wanted to do something outside. My mum’s students were going sailing, and she rang to tell me there was room on the bus if I wanted to come. I’ve heard about the great work that
do, and I’ve wanted to go sailing for ages, so this last minute decision was a great opportunity.

Sailability provides opportunities for people with disabilities to experience being on a boat. The boats can also take wheelchair users, without them needing to transfer. The staff are so friendly and helpful, making everybody feel welcome, and encouraging them to participate. Our group went on the big boat first, and then I was taken out in a dinghy with one of the staff members. Small boats freak me out more than big ones do, but they were both really relaxing. It was funny to be in the middle of the river Foyle, going under the bridge that we drive over so many times without thinking. I’d love to have had the opportunity to try sailing, but it wasn’t possible with the number of students. I’ll just have to come back another time.

Apart from the Sailability organisation and what they do, I was really impressed by the students that I spent the day with. If you have a stereotypical view of people with autism (which thankfully I don’t), the four boys would make you think twice. They dealt with changing plans, lots of waiting around, following instructions and making conversation with no problems. Like all pupils, they have very different personalities, likes and dislikes, and it was nice to get to know them a bit more. Spending time with them is always great fun. One of them became my new friend today. When he saw me on the bus, he asked where O.J was, because he’s afraid of dogs. When I told him he was at home, asleep in his bed, he was happy, and actually spent time sitting beside me during the day. Although he instantly associated me with the dog, he obviously didn’t see me in any negative way, which was great.

When we got back to the school, a barbecue had just finished, and the students were having
lime-dancing lessons out in the yard. I’m not a dancer, but it seemed like fun!
I got a huge welcome home from the dogs, and spent the evening celebrating my dad’s birthday with dinner and cake.
So all in all, it was a very unplanned, but very good day. Tomorrow is a “day on”, but I can’t really complain.


Subject = none in particular!

As well as the Josh Ritter gig on Sunday, OJ and I have had a busy week.
Last friday we went to visit one of the sixth classes in the local primary school. The teacher taught me when I was at the school, and I talked to her class around this time last year as well. They were very attentive and well behaved, and asked lots of mature, sensible questions.
There teacher gave me a lovely thank you card in braille, as well as a lovely present today to say thanks. I don’t expect anything like this at all. It was really nice of her.

On the way back from the pet shop after the school, I went for lunch with my PA. We met a young man called Shaun, who has autism and is terrified of dogs. He became scared a number of years ago, after a dog jumped on him and the owners did nothing to stop it. He has met OJ many times on our way to the beach and has gradually came over to pet him. On friday he recognised him straight away and his parents were delighted. They would love him to have a dog, but since OJ is the only one he will touch at the moment, they don’t know if he will ever have one.

We walked to town last saturday, and after visiting my granny, OJ and I met one of my best friends for lunch. Lunch took about an hour and a half because of the lovely weather, and we were entertained by about 5 children constantly around our table. They asked a lot of questions! Then I got my hair cut and OJ tried to eat my hair as it fell. He always does it! Gross!

Tomorrow could be a good day. The new swell season and REM albums are out. I should be saving money, but sometimes there’s things you just have to buy.
My friend Mark is on a quiz team who are in the semi-final of the all Ireland Ray Darcy quiz on today fm. The finals will be broadcast live from Vicar Street tomorrow, between 9 and 12 a.m. on today fm.
I had hoped to be in the audience for this, as it would have been great fun. Unfortunately that won’t happen and I’ll have to listen from home. Good luck Markee. I know you’ll do well.

We don’t get a bank holiday on Monday. There is one in the republic, and one of my radio shows is being broadcast between 5 and 6 PM instead of a regular presenters. I’m not sure which one it is.

Currently listening to: Alison Curtis on today fm
Currently reading: ‘one voice: my life in song’ by Christy Moore. Its a really brilliant book.

Music Therapy

I thought I’d post this non guide dog related link here encase some people are interested.

During February, March and April of last year I was busy trying to make my first radio documentary. It was an assignment for the radio journalism course I was doing. I chose the subject of music therapy, as I had done a lot of research on it for college, and its something I’m very interested in. Scoil Iosagain, where I was a
past pupil
has a lot of children with special needs, and music therapy is just one of many brilliant parts of their corriculum.

My documentary was first broadcast on ICR in April, on the same day that OJ and I were filmed for
The finished product isn’t one of my proudest audio moments! One of the interviews has lots of unnecessary background music that couldn’t be edited out, and there’s some dodgey editing and audio distortion in there too. You learn from your mistakes apparently, and I have learned a lot since I made this last year.

One of the stars in this documentary is
Who I have mentioned here before. All the children are amazing, so if you listen, you can forgive my mistakes and at least be entertained and inspired by how music therapy helps them.

You can download the documentary

I haven’t tried it properly yet so hope it works.

World Autism Awareness Day

Today is world autism awareness day. I want to mention Aileen McCallan’s book Again.
Please buy a copy if you can.
Aileen is the subject of a documentary produced by Kevin Kelly for Inishowen community radio. It was broadcast this morning and will be repeated tonight at 7 PM on
Its really worth a listen.
I think Aileen is doing some interviews soon so keep an eye/ear out for her.

I’m inspired!

I’m just home from the first book launch I’ve ever attended. It took place in our local library, to celebrate the fact that a local mother has just published a book about her life since her son Cian was born.
Here’s an article from the inishowen Independent newspaper to explain:

Buncrana mum writes autism memoir 26.02.09‘A World of our Own’ out next week
by Damian Dowds, Inishowen Independent
AILEEN McCallan, a Buncrana-based mother whose ten year-old son Cian attends the special needs unit at Scoil Íosagáin, will launchher first book, ‘A World of our Own’ in Buncrana Library on Thursday 12 March. Published by the Poolbeg Press, the book is a searingly honest account about a family affected by autism. It’s about a hundred small kindnesses from friends, family and strangers in contrast to the often cold indifference from the health and social services. It’s about a mother’s search for treatment that will help her son and the progress he has made, despite being written off many times. The seed for the book was planted when Aileen joined a writing group in her native Tyrone four years ago, and having first floated the idea with publishers Poolbeg of writing a fictionalised account, she decided to bare her soul and tell it as it was. Writing about the subject was a difficult experience, she says. “Reliving that time was very emotional and looking back on it made me angry. It brought back to me who desperate and low I was, and how so many families have to go through the same thing every day.” “But it was therapeutic to write it. It’s out of me now. Even though the story isn’t over, I think I can have a new beginning.” “Things have improved for Cian and our family, but while this book has been written the story hasn’t ended,” she says. “Our voicestill isn’t heard and the powers that be still aren’t listening. Scoil Íosagáin recently lost five special needs assistants and the autism classes have been affected.” Having taught him at home using the Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) technique, she had tremendous difficulty in finding a school in which to educate him. She heard about Scoil Íosagáin and having checked it out, moved lock stock and barrel from Tyrone to Buncrana so that Cian could attend. Having slaved over the manuscript throughout the summer of 2008, this first time author now can only watch as the published booktakes on a life of its own. She has hopes for what it might achieve, not in terms of sales or fame, but in changing attitudes. “Over everything else, I hope that the powers that be will listen and try to get to know autism,” she says. “The book explains the stresses that autism puts on parents and how desperate they are for support – some parents get no respite and can’t even leavethe house to go to the shop because they can’t take their autistic child with them. I hope that the authorities read it and realise how they’ve failed our children and come to recognise that there are therapies and interventions that can help. Cian is proof of that.” “A World of our Own” will be published on 2 March and available locally from, among other places, Mac’s Bookshop in Buncrana andFarren’s Newsagents in Moville. The book will be officially launched in Buncrana Library on 12 March from 7pm, while Boyzone starKeith Duffy, who has done sterling work for autism charities, will attend a book signing in Eason’s, Letterkenny at the end of March. Proceeds from the book will go into a trust fund for Cian.

I hope to pass this book on to as many people as possible. People still need to be made aware of what autism is and how it affects a huge number of individuals and their families. Not having time to read is a rubbish excuse not to read a book like this. The author, who is busy caring for a family and the challenges of a child with autism, managed to find time to write about her experiences.
Aileen sold and signed copies of the book at the launch, and that money will be donated to Scoil Iosagain. There were a few acknowledgements and words of congradulations before Aileen read some extracts from the book. She is an excellent reader, and I wished she could have read the whole book. She is a lovely writer, and the talent was passed down to her oldest son Christopher who read a beautiful poem he wrote about his younger brother Cian.
OJ was in the middle of all the action, loving the attention as usual. Thankfully he was very quiet when he needed to be. Cian has seen him a couple of times in the school and absolutely loves him, but he wasn’t there tonight. Aileen pointed out how difficult it can be for an entire family to attend functions when you have a child with autism, and sometimes a parent is left at home to babysit. Those of us not in this situation take so much for granted.
I spoke to Aileen after the launch, and she seemed genuinely delighted with the response so far. I have only met her a couple of times in the radio station, as she volunteers there regularly. We talked about getting her to narrate an audio book of her own story, as I don’t think anybody else could do it justice. A braille copy could be produced, but I know it will be a while before I get my hands or my ears on an accessible copy. I know that when I eventually do, i won’t be able to put it down.