Bolster Community welcomes support for Autism Connect Programme

Bolster Community welcomes support for Autism Connect Programme

Bolster Community, a local charity and social enterprise based in Newry, helps individuals and families get through and get ahead.  Bolster offers practical support for families and individuals of all ages across Newry and Mourne.  Autism Connect, is a social hub for individuals over 18 years, with or waiting on an Autism diagnosis that is run by Bolster Community and supported by The Southern Health Care Trust.

Bolster consulted with, young adults with autism, families, carers, educators, healthcare and consultants who pooled their collective knowledge. Our consultation showed deep frustration with under-resourcing and the lack of prioritising for adult autism services. Some adults had been waiting over 6 years to attend an autism diagnostic clinic whilst others spoke to growing frustration and despair, impacting significantly on their quality of life due to inaction on a diagnosis.

What became clear was that most Autism services are designed for people who have autism and also a learning disability or mental health diagnosis, but few services are suitable for people with autism but without a learning disability or mental health diagnosis. Adults with autism were invited to shape and co-design a service and opportunity that was of value to them.

Autism Connect was created. A space for over 18’s, with or waiting on an Autism diagnosis to feel connected, understood, and supported, so they are empowered to be the best version of themselves. Meeting every Thursday night at the Bolster offices in Newry.

“This club is a lifeline for my 24-year-old daughter. It is her only social outlet. She usually struggles in groups, but regularly tells how much she loves her fellow club members and enjoys their company. She’s building up trust with others and expressing herself through group activities. As parents, we can’t emphasise too much our appreciation of the staff and their autism-centred approach. No other such club exists in our area, and it’s vitally important that this invaluable resource is supported in all ways possible”. Parent of Autism Connect member.

Jacinta Linden, CEO at Bolster Community commented;

“Autism Connect has been welcomed by a fantastic group of young adults who join weekly to meet like-minded individuals, combat isolation, learn new skills, and embrace social outings together. Over the past 12 months, we have seen a tremendous surge in confidence among our adults, enabling them the tackle everyday challenges and contribute to their local community. We are delighted the Southern Trust has recognised the value of this service for young adults.”

“There is of course still much more to do for adults with Autism but the recent passing of the Autism Amendment Bill by the NI Assembly in March 2022 brings renewed hope and focus for the future. In particular, this Bill introduces the requirement for a cross departmental autism training strategy and regional consistency for the provision of adult autism services throughout Northern Ireland, both of which are greatly needed and very welcomed.”


Dr. Ivor Crothers, Clinical Director Psychology Services SHSCT, stated;

“The outcomes shown in this project, demonstrate that the pilot has provided clear positive improvements for the participants in terms of meaningful activities, communication skills, relationship building, and emotional wellbeing. These outcomes are certainly to be commended and the importance of the noted improvements in confidence and self-esteem in particular for this population should not be underestimated.

Indeed, the project is an important reminder to us all in these uncertain times that when we feel connected, understood, and supported, we are empowered to be the best version of ourselves.”

When and where?

Autism Connect, every Thursday night, 7pm – 9pm at Whitegates Business Park, Newry, BT35 6UA

If you would like to find out more about Bolsters services or get involved with Autism Connect, get in touch at 028 3083 5764 or visit us bolstercommunity.org