Bid to become Ireland’s first autism friendly city

Waterford has already been voted the best place to live in Ireland, but now it is setting its sights on having the country’s first autism friendly city.

Amanda Fox with her children, Isla, 9 and Ryan, 12, has been is on a mission to make Waterford city Ireland’s first autism friendly city.

A dedicated group of parents and allies representing the autistic community in Waterford are leading the initiative that hopes to create an inclusive city and county where neurodiversity is welcomed and celebrated. The group is hoping to achieve the accolade through participation in the AsIAM Autism-Friendly Communities Awards Programme, and is hoping to face down stiff competition from Dublin and achieve the title.

“We launched last April letting the community know what we were hoping to achieve and what the initiative looks like,” said Amanda Fox, who lives in Tramore, and is a member of Autism Friendly Waterford, chairperson of Autism Friendly City, and company founder of Autastic, a neuro-affirmative support business. “Dublin is hot on our heels, but the targets we had to get included getting 60 organisations on board the initiative – 20 private, 20 voluntary, and 20 public. We actually have over 40 private businesses on board already, and we’re really working hard to get more voluntary and public businesses.” Fox is autistic herself, and was only diagnosed in 2022. She also has two neurodivergent children, Ryan, 12, and Isla, 9.

“The idea of the initiative is to change opinion and take away any stereotypes,” said Fox. “We need to let people know what autism actually means and be inclusive to people with autism. Just before I started my own business, I was working in the National Learning Network (NLN), where I was running the adult autism support service, and we had an outreach community programme, a day service, and we also helped training students who were autistic and helping them in the classroom. While I was working there, one of my autistic clients said to me during a one-to-one session, suggested I was autistic. I hadn’t put two and two together, but the signs were there, because I’m very direct, say everything like it is, I like things a certain way, everything has an order, and I’m very strict around boundaries and processes. He picked up on all of this, and sensed I was very like him. I went and was processed and I found out I’m autistic.”

Waterford City and County Council is supporting the endeavour and the group’s efforts to enhance the services provided by local businesses and communities to create a truly inclusive city and county, where individuals of all abilities can thrive.

Eoin Morrissey, Waterford City and County Council’s Healthy City and County Co-ordinator, commended the group, and said the council has a continued commitment to inclusivity.

“It is truly remarkable to witness the incredible accomplishments of Autism Friendly City thus far. From my position in the community sector, I have personally witnessed the significant positivity and awareness that has been brought about by this campaign in our unwavering commitment to inclusivity.”

The group are actively building awareness in partnering with the Waterford Viking Marathon by having an Autism Friendly 10km race which will be the first of its kind in Ireland.