This week Specialisterne NI are celebrating the launch of Connect4, a new in-school and inter-school autistic community which has been designed by 100 autistic young people across 10 secondary schools in N Ireland. The programme is called Connect4 as the young people designed it to have fun and connect with others, including other autistic young people, both in their own school and in other schools. Connect4 is funded by the National Community Lottery Fund as part of its Empowering Young People programme.
What does Connect4 involve?
Connect4 is made up of ICONNECT, INTERCONNECT and WE CONNECT programme activities. All activities are hop-on and hop-off, which means participants get to take part when it suits them and their studies.
- In individual and group sessions participants learn how to connect more with others through role-play, games and discussion
- Interest Groups- lunchtime or after-school groups and activities.
- Inter-school monthly group workshops.
- Summer programme- trips and interest groups over the summer.
- Connect4 sessions for teaching and support staff where staff learn what Connect4 participants would like them to know
- ‘Bring a friend’ workshops where participants can invite non-autistic pupils
- Future Connect workshops when participants learn from employer mentors, including autistic mentors, who share how you can best get ready for work, and what it is like to be an autistic adult in N Ireland and in other countries.
Isn’t that 3 parts- Connect3?
It is 3 parts! The Connect4 of the title refers to the small groups of shared interests, e.g. Fortnite, Oculus VR, stage make-up, acting, Lego League, board games, or football. Having at least 3 other young people who share your interest is pretty cool, although Connect10 was suggested!
Won’t Connect4 affect my studies?
We hope it will (positively)! The Connect4 team liaise with the school staff so that it fits in with school life and is a win-win. Teaching staff and classroom assistants who took part in the 2 year pilots report that participants performed better in their studies. They thought this was because participants seemed more confident and looked forward to taking part in the workshops.
Connect4 connects autistic young people across schools to have fun together and learn from each other.
This fits in with the National Lottery Community Fund, ‘Empowering Young People’s aims which are that
- Young people will have more skills they need for the future.
- Young people will have better relationships with their support networks and communities.
- Young people will have improved health and well-being.
Who leads Connect4?
The participants! The most common word in young people’s feedback so far has been fun! The Connect4 team listen to Connect4 participants who decide what activities they want to do and when, on an ongoing basis, In this way participants create their own programme which is important as it takes away some stress ‘ When you do something there is not a lot of stress.’
Who is Specialisterne NI?
Specialisterne NI is part of an international network working across 15 countries for 15 years to help autistic people to get ready for, secure and sustain rewarding careers. Specialisterne pioneered Autism at Work which is now a major international movement. In N Ireland, Specialisterne has an autistic adult community, 2gether, who inspired Connect4 as a participant suggested they would have liked to have started 2gether earlier. 2gether is funded by the National Lottery Community Fund and is in it’s 3rd year. All the Connect4 team have studied autism at university and have a passion for and experience in supporting autistic people to achieve what they want in life, from starting out in a new career to getting your message across.
Connect4 will connect autistic young people to each other as well as other autistic communities of young people in other parts of the world, including the amazing I CAN network in Australia.
How do I take part?
There are 50 places per year in Connect4. To find out more or to take part, contact Elaine Stephens at Elaine.firstname.lastname@example.org or ask your school SENCO to contact Elaine.
Would you like to join our team? We are currently recruiting the Connect4 team, see details https://www.specialisterneni.com/connect4jobroles/
We look forward to hearing from you!