News & Events

Autism Initiatives NI ‘Friendship Group’ Places Snapped Up

Leading charity Autism Initiatives are pleased to deliver their latest service for children with autism. Friendship Group is a unique 10-week course designed specifically for children aged 6 to 10 years old with an autism spectrum condition or related diagnosis. Costing £80 per semester the programme has been subsidised as a result of donations allowing it to run weekly from the charity’s community outreach hub located at Beechill Business Park. Commencing on Wednesday 26th April from 4.30 to 5.30pm, the course content will pay particular attention to key subject areas such as forming friendships, identifying emotions in others, reading body language and developing conversations.

Evolving from a trial project carried out in 2016, Autism Initiatives have combined their expertise with first-hand findings to develop a unique programme that will deliver positive outcomes for each participant. Class sizes are capped at 10 participants with children working closely each week with two highly skilled course facilitators, whose experience includes speech and language therapy and atypical child development. A fun and interactive programme; children will be introduced to roleplaying games, social story scenarios, Apps, board games and trips to local venues to help support the development of particular skills.

Project Coordinator, Marie-Therese Fitzpatrick, commented: “As a Trustee on the Board of Autism Initiatives NI and a parent of a child with autism diagnosis who has used the charity’s services, I am incredibly proud to see this programme officially launch. In 2016, I worked with the charity to scope the needs and want for such a service and over the past year we have successfully trialled a 6 week course, which received rave reviews from families, and designed something that I feel children and families will greatly benefit from.”

Autism is a growing issue in Northern Ireland – as it is in the rest of the UK and Ireland – with record numbers of young children identified as having the condition. Grainne Close, national director of Autism Initiatives NI explained: “The importance of this programme can be summed up by one child’s first comment during our trial programme in 2016: ‘I’ve no friends at school, I sit on my own’. We’re aware that children with an autism spectrum condition can sometimes find it difficult to form lasting friendships, which can result in other issues exhibiting in the school and home life. This 10-week programme provides a secure and safe environment to work on developing confidence and communication skills. In fact, I was recently pleased to discover that one child, who used the service last year, now has the confidence to take part in numerous group activities and has made friends.”

Close further explains: “I’m ecstatic that the course booked out immediately after announcing it to our email database. It is through funding and kind donations that we were able to subsidise this highly sought after programme thus making it even more accessible to families. We hope that individuals across Northern Ireland can help support the development of these types of courses so that we can offer spaces to even more children later in the year.”

Friendship Group is fully booked but to join our mailing list or fundraise/donate to Autism Initiatives’ programme of health & wellbeing activities please contact