Autistic student, Thomas Monk, tells Áine Marie about teachers, Transition Year and The Big Bang Theory.
‘Well the hardest thing was saying goodbye to the guys on the last day before moving to St. Mary’s, it was kind of heart-breaking for me,’ admits Thomas, one of the first students to attend ABACAS Drogheda.
Although he is a typical sixteen year old boy, enjoying the finer things in life such as video games and Netflix, Thomas is in fact a Transition Year student with a twist; he has Autism.
Thomas has fond memories of the school that shaped his future. ‘ABACAS is mainly a school for children with Autism, with few students going there.’
He recalls how drama played a big role in his learning: ‘I think it was at Christmas times, like practising for the plays, it was very amusing. Well…if you wanted to overcome a fear of stage fright and speak out in a crowd.’
People with Autism often react differently in social situations, avoiding eye contact and isolating themselves rather than spending time with others. The staff of ABACAS School seek to improve the social skills of students whilst teaching typical lessons such as English and Maths.
‘I learned many skills like writing and sports and P.E. and even theatre and plays’, says Thomas, who expresses his enthusiasm towards education. He speaks of the system of progression put in place within the school which is very different to that of a mainstream school. It is based on the progress of the individual student, rather than age or class group.
One in 66 children have Autism and it affects five times more boys than girls. The characteristics of Autism can present themselves in a wide variety of combinations and can range from mild to severe.
ABACAS have established a youth group for children and young people with Autism which meet on a weekly basis. Thomas attends the group for older teenagers. He refers to the social outlet as ‘Heaven’ where he and his friends choose activities to do upon arrival.
It is a safe place to socialise for young people with Autism who may feel isolated from their peer groups. Members of the group are often past pupils of the school who wish to keep in contact with the friends they made during their time there.
Thomas talks about the interests shared by members of the group, particularly television programmes such as ‘The Big Bang Theory’ and films such as ‘Star Wars’ and anything and everything ‘Marvel’. When asked which character he would most like to be if he ever had the chance he said Iron Man or Sheldon Cooper.
Thomas realises that his successes can be attributed to the work of ABACAS and the support he received from family and friends. ‘It’s a chance to educate people who have Autism. These people deserve a chance.’
By Áine Marie Monk