Adam Harris is a 20 year old social entrepreneur and Founder-CEO of AsIAm.ie, an organisation working to build an Ireland where every person with Autism can “live and succeed as they are”. AsIAm.ie provides a central online hub for the Autism community which aims to inform and empower those affected by the condition, their families and supporter. Through online engagement with users, AsIAm creates training programmes and campaigns to engage various aspects of Irish life to understand Autism better and to become more Autism friendly.
Adam founded AsIAm.ie based on his experiences of living with Aspergers Syndrome, a condition on the Autism Spectrum. Adam spent 3 years in Special Education, 5 in mainstream primary education with the support of an incredible Special Needs Assistant and completed Secondary School without the support of an SNA. As Adam benefited from early intervention, he felt the need to do something to give back to the Autism community in Ireland and felt that a poor online presence and a society which does not truly understand the condition were key elements of the challenges people with Autism face, which needed to be addressed.
Today, Adam is a frequent contributor in media and at conferences home and abroad, around Autism issues and the need to have a whole-community approach to Autism. A Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Awardee, Adam sits on the Board of Specialisterne Ireland and PRISM DLR and is Patron of Laois Offaly Families for Autism and the Wicklow Triple A Alliance. Adam is also passionate about the need for a greater understanding of Autism in Irish schools, and in that capacity sits on the NCSE Consultative Forum, representing a number of Autism organisations.
Adam hails from Greystones, Co. Wicklow and in his spare time enjoys reading and hanging out with friends.
READ THE INTERVIEW!
Veronica Pensosi has interviewed Adam Harris for ITASD 2017:
Q: Hello Adam, you seem a very young gifted person, in your twenties you have already founded a company. Could you tell us a little bit about this story?
Thank you! I don't know that I am any more gifted than anyone else to be honest, I think I am where I am today because I had the right people and supports around me when I was growing up and because I am doing something I am passionate about. I really believe that to build an inclusive society for people with Autism we need to re-evaluate our definition and understanding of success - it has to be person-centred and about happiness in life.
So in terms of my own story, I was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome when I was 5 years old, spent time in special education, and when I was 8 moved to my local primary school, where I had various supports including a Special Needs Assistant. I went on to go to Secondary School independently and by the time I was 16 I had made friends and was extremely independent. However I felt growing up as a teenager with Autism could be isolating - often you felt no one understood you and you saw peers be isolated often because people did not understand their condition. I wanted to change this so I setup an advocacy website and movement, AsIAm.ie to start a national conversation around life with Autism in Ireland
Q: What is AslAm.ie? What is the purpose of the company?
AsIAm is a charity working to develop a central hub or online community for the Autism Community to share experiences and access information. We believe that lots of the challenges faced by people with Autism come from societal barriers so we work in communities and with lots of different stakeholders around Ireland to build understanding and inclusive practises.
Q: Could you briefly describe the training programmes AsIAm creates and the campaigns to engage various aspects of Irish life to understand Autism better?
AsIAm provides quite a range of training programmes and campaigns to engage stakeholders in gaining a practical insight into life with Autism and the small changes they can make to ensure their school, university, public service or business is as accessible as possible for people with Autism. We provide training in person but are currently developing a range of online training packages to increase our reach. We believe everyone in society should have a basic understanding of Autism, with that knowledge needing to increase depending who the person is and how they may come into contact with someone with Autism (e.g doctors may need a deeper knowledge than police officers). Really we want to start a national conversation on what it is like to live with Autism - Ireland has had this conversation in recent years about mental health and I guess we are trying to replicate that model. A key part of social change is the power of people's stories so at the centre of everything we do is Autistic people and their families sharing experiences and telling their story.
Q: What is the contribution of technological tools in your AsIAm project?
Our emphasis on social media and our website (as an information portal) has been key to enabling us to scale and, relatively quickly, develop name recognition. Our new online training packages will provide a cutting edge learning experience which people can access from their office- when trying to convince people they need to learn, convenience is key to getting engagement.
Q: What are the challenges that people with autism are facing in Ireland and Europe? Do you think that major awareness could be helpful for them?
Unemployment, social isolation and parity of access to essential services some key examples. I believe being born with Autism can present barriers but I also believe many barriers are created by prejudice and how society operates. What has astounded me during the course of my work is how people are really open to learning and trying to be inclusive but, too often, nobody has ever asked before. We need to rapidly engage the public in a discourse around Autism. Throughout Europe, we have an Autistic population which is entering adulthood in large numbers - if we are serious about mainstreaming that means you mainstream discussion and knowledge among the public, not just professsionals.
Q: How technology could contribute to create this awareness?
I think what is really key is that we have to humanise Autism and the experience of Autism through people's stories and journeys. That is always what captures the publics interest and imagination. To do this, we need to bring our message to platforms which are not exclusive to our community but rather are the talking shops of society and thus harnessing social media will be critical.
Q: What are you expecting from the ITASD conference?
I am most looking forward to attending ITASD. I am looking forward to learning about the different developments happening in the technology space which will enable people with Autism to have a voice, live more independently and participate fully in society.