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The Rainbow Club Cork and UCC collaborate in research on how to improve supports for autistic children and their families

Two recent studies by UCC-students in collaboration with the Rainbow Club Cork Centre for Autism
show how models of inclusive supports can improve the lives of autistic children and their families.
Emily Kearns, a graduate of MA in Social Work and Nicole McCarthy, a final year medical student,
have both collaborated with Karen O’ Mahony, Founder and CEO of the Rainbow Club Cork in two
separate pieces of research completed this year.

Emily Kearns’ research, supervised by Caroline Burke in the School of Applied Social Studies,
interviewed adult siblings about their experiences growing up in a family living with autism. The
participants stressed that more support would have helped them as children, in particular a greater
understanding and knowledge of ASD from their own schools. They also highlighted the lack of
resources in sibling support within their communities with very little or no services provided for
them. The Rainbow Club Cork is now filling the gap in this service provision offering an innovative
model of Sibling Support Groups where siblings of autistic sisters and brothers of different ages are
facilitated to express their needs and concerns in a safe place. These Sibling Support Groups are also
led by siblings who themselves know what life is like to grow up in a family living with autism. This
model has generated a nationwide interest and it is hoped that it will be copied by other
organisations and professionals working with families living with autism across the country.

Medical student Nicole McCarthy surveyed parents of autistic children attending Cork University
Hospital and their views on how this experience can be improved by making CUH more autism
friendly. Responses indicate the need for improvements to services available for children with
autism. A lack of awareness of services that are currently available to children at present was also
identified. Of the parents’ survey, 18% of parents surveyed were unaware of any facilities. Overall,
the main areas for improvement identified were the Emergency & Paediatric departments.
Nicole McCarthy’s research was supervised by Paediatric Consultant in CUH, Louise Gibbons, and the
Rainbow Club’s parents’ opinions and recommendations will be included in a monthly meeting of
the Autism Friendly Hospital Working Group and taken into account when devising the strategy to
make CUH an autism-friendly hospital.

The reports can be read in full here: