Grace Mawhinneyfrom Belfast, a sixth-year student at St. Louise’s Comprehensive College, has been a committed volunteer with the South Belfast branch of the Autistic Society. Originally her involvement came through her love of trampolining. Having spent years enjoying the activity herself, Grace decided to get her younger brother, who is diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, to take part. Following early success at a trampoline session specifically for those suffering from autism and other disorders such as ADHD, Grace was motivated to become involved in coaching the children who attended. Now, before her own trampolining classes on a Saturday, Grace arrives two hours beforehand to help set up, organise and coach autistic children from across the community.

Her attention to detail in coaching has been exemplary – asking parents before the session begins whether their children are having a good day or an off day, whether there is any specific detail about their condition she should be aware of such as tendencies to place things in their mouths or react badly to certain stimuli. Being aware of different children’s habits is an important aspect of working with autistic children as routine creates a sense of ease that facilitates a happy experience at the session. The ability to work with and remember the different needs of the children she works with has been paramount to the great job Grace does all year round.

Sinead Lagan, teacher at St. Louise’s highlighted the work Grace also partakes in within the school as a librarian mentor and a reading partner with younger children helping to encourage further reading from those who are struggling with literacy related tasks. “She is quietly spoken with a gentle character who gives her best to everything that comes her way – she leaves a lasting impression on those who cross her path.”

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