With two autistic children to care for, single mum Shauna Scullion from Ardboe talks to Local Women about the Empower Project and how it’s made a huge difference to her family’s life.
As a single parent caring for two young autistic children, Ardboe woman Shauna Scullion knows only too well what it’s like to feel isolated and alone.
Coping with nine year old son Charlie’s frequent meltdowns and her five year old daughter Cara Mae’s attachment issues, she was desperate to reach out and talk to other mothers struggling in similar situations.
So when the Empower Project was set up locally in 2015, supporting families who have a child or children on the spectrum - with ASD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia or ADHD – she found a place to go for help and respite. The project, funded by the Big Lottery Supporting Families Programme, works with children under 12
in Mid Ulster, Antrim and Newtownabbey and has, to date, supported over 6,310 participants through 553 activities since its inception.
According to Shauna, 29, who now runs a carers’ coffee morning group at the Tobin Youth Centre, Moortown, Empower has been a game-changer in her life and made a huge difference to both her own well-being and that of her children.
“As a single parent I must admit, I do find it difficult at times looking after two young children with autism.” she says. “I’m a carer 24/7 so it’s important that I look after my own mental health as well.
“There have been times when I have felt alone and cut off in my own bubble and it’s been tough not having anyone else there to help me or even to moan to.
“While both my kids are mainstream, Charlie can be quite aggressive and has meltdowns. Cara Mae, on the other hand, has shutdowns, social anxiety and attachment issues.
“Empower not only provides my children with a safe environment to play in and develop social skills but it’s helped me so much to meet other mums who understand exactly what I’m dealing with. When it comes to having other people to talk to, mums in similar situations and who understand what you’re going through make the best support out there.”
The focus of Empower is to not only support the children with autism, dyslexia and dyspraxia, but also their parents and the wider family circle. Now in its fourth year of funding, the project is set to end in 2020 but it’s been such a vital lifeline to so many people in the Magherafelt and Antrim areas, that the staff behind Empower are pushing for a two year extension.
The main aims of Empower are to deliver strategies to support families who have encountered special educational needs, to build relationships with stakeholders, assist families to develop confidence and develop skills for success and provide a range of training and social opportunities. It also runs an information line which is available on 028 9581 6852.
While the lead group is DADS – Dyslexia and Dyspraxia Support – the project has expanded to help children with other special educational needs. And Shauna says she’s so grateful for the difference Empower has made to her family’s life.
I’m a carer 24/7 so it’s important that I look after my own mental health as well.
“The summer group Club Awesome and the Saturday club for the kids have been amazing,” she says. “It’s lovely to feel accepted and not an inconvenience.
“The clubs have really brought Cara Mae out of her shell and Charlie loves them too. They learn things like fun with drums and circus skills and both have made new friends.
“There really wasn’t anything else out there like this and the social side of things has helped them develop their own skills that bit more.
“I’d love to see Empower get more funding to continue. It’s made such a huge difference to so many people and fills in the gap that statutory organisations miss.”
Shauna herself has learned new skills by taking part in some of the training courses like Behavioural Strategies, Play Therapy and Thinking Visually. She says she feels so much more confident now and able to handle the challenging times with greater ease.
“If I take the children somewhere they might feel overwhelmed and not fit in,” she says.
“But through the clubs and activities run by Empower, they feel accepted and relaxed.
“And if mum is supported too, it makes a difference to the household. It’s so important to me now that I have someone to talk to and I love our coffee mornings. A happy mum means happy children and that’s what Empower has done for us.”
Josie McGuckin from Empower says: “Each year we’ve reached well over our target for the number of participants we’ve helped.
“As well as running clubs and activities for the children we also organise Learning Buddy Hubs for children who struggle in school with literacy, numeracy and social skills. We also work with four schools in the area, offering this to children who have been referred through the hub.
“With our information line we take calls from parents who are distressed or who’ve found out their child has difficulties. We talk to them, find out their needs and if we can’t help them, signpost them to other agencies who can.
“Finally we provide training courses for parents to help them develop skills to support their children. We have a booking system available through Eventbrite.”
*For further information log onto www.empowernetwork.co.uk
Out & About
Getting ready for a night of fun and celebrations at the Europa Hotel on April 13
Out & About
Cookstown model Kate Grant took to the catwalk to raise funds for the Special Olympics Ireland team.