Successful GAA camp for autistic children held in Galway
By Cian O’Connell
During the past decade an admirable development has really started to unfold in the St Michael’s GAA club in Galway city.
Current players are ready, willing, and able to invest time and effort into underage teams perfectly illustrated by Alan Glynn and Colm Tummon’s emergence as managers of county outfits.
The well regarded Glynn is currently in charge of the Galway minors footballers, while Tummon is in charge of the Galway City/West Under 16s.
That, though, is only part of Tummon’s story because last week at Westside, St Michael’s delivered a successful camp in conjunction with the Galway Autism Partnership.
“It was hopefully the start of a good relationship between the club and GAP, the Galway Autism Partnership, I didn't realise that they were based in Laurel Park which is on our doorstep,” Tummon says.
A year like no other meant Michael’s, similar to clubs throughout the country, had to find ways to adapt and act quickly.
“Normally the GAA organises the Cúl Camps, but this year they handed a bit of management over to clubs,” Tummon adds. “They have said there is no pressure to organise one, but if you do organise one, you will be in charge of the numbers, what time of the day you do it, how you organise coaches. Maybe 50 per cent of the clubs took the GAA up on that.
“The first thing we had to do was see whether there was a co-ordinator within the club to run ours and take it on as a project.
“Alan Glynn normally does it in our club, but his wife recently had a baby so he was happy enough to pass on the mantle to myself. Originally we agreed to run our regular Cul Camp last week. That was fine, I agreed to do that, it was fine. We had 120 on that.”
Subsequently another little opportunity presented itself and Tummon, a primary school teacher in Gaelscoil Dara, was delighted to embrace the challenge.
“Then the Galway Autism Partnership Co-ordinator Aisling Colreavy contacted our club secretary, Lorcan Mannion just to see if we would have an interest in running a Cúl Camp for children with autism,” Tummon reveals.
“Lorcan rang me to see if I'd be interested. Unknown to Lorcan I've taught in autistic units before, I did a teaching practice in Briarhill, and I did sub work in a school called Brierfield, it has a lovely autistic unit, just beyond Abbeyknockmoy. So I had a bit of experience about what it might look like.
“We agreed to do it. I might have a bit of experience, but we were inexperienced as a club. We just agreed to do three days for an hour and a half. I think if we were looking to do it again we'd stretch ourselves a bit further than that.”
Five volunteers were provided by the Galway Autism Partnership, while St Michael’s had a similar amount of coaches to assist children ranging in age from nine to 14.
Tummon stresses the diligence and value of those helping out. “It might sound small, but there were five children on the camp,” Tummon remarks. “We were lucky that the Galway Autism Partnership provided us with five volunteers.
“Each one of the GAP volunteers was paired off with one child. It is really important with autistic children that you have eyes on them all of the time and that you are protecting them. Each one of the five, it was lovely it worked out as a one to one ratio.
“It was a bit like a classroom environment where I was the teacher and they were like SNAs, it was similar to that. We also provided five 16 or 17 year old, St Michael's juvenile players. Again we paired one of them off with each child on the camp. Each child had one GAP volunteer and one St Michael's player working with them.”
That St Michael’s assisted the families is a source of pride with Tummon acknowledging the relationships forged and skills acquired by everyone involved. “You can only imagine how difficult it was during the last three months with the schools closed, the lack of routine, everything like that,” Tummon comments.
“The Michael's players were brilliant. For their age, I think that they got a great perspective on life, even the second day one of the boys on the camp arrived down. We had just finished the first Cul Camp and the coaches were eating their lunch.
“The boy from the first day wanted to meet his St Michael's player from the day before, he was wondering where he was. I had to run to get him to finish up his lunch early because the young lad was more comfortable when he was with him.
“The friendship and relationship was built up nearly immediately. I think our 16 and 17 year olds got a great outlook.
“Even if any of them thought about doing teaching, they got great experience and knowledge about working with special needs kids which is obviously massive in education at the moment.”
Now Tummon is hopeful that St Michael’s and the Galway Autism Partnership will connect on a regular basis.
“100 per cent I think it is the start of a budding relationship,” Tummon admits. “We could run them in Easter, in the summer, we wouldn't even rule out doing another one this summer.
“I think we would be willing to take on a bit more, be it a four day week or a two hour day, just to give the parents a bit more of a break. The hour and a half was probably a little bit short.
“We were heading into the unknown a small bit. We would definitely be more prepared next time, more willing to do two hour days or even longer.
“They really appreciated it, they couldn't have been any more thankful. That made it worth it as well, hopefully we will be able to build on this now. It was definitely a success.”