New ‘quiet hour’ sessions are to be introduced at the Orchard Leisure Centre.
It is a first for the Armagh venue and will get underway next month.
The initiative has now been confirmed and comes after collaboration with a local support group for families who have children and young people with autism.
The ‘quiet hours’ – due to start on Thursday, November 8 – are aimed at primarily at those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and sensory issues.
Local SDLP councillor Mealla Campbell welcomed confirmation by council officials.
She said she had been working with officials from the council’s leisure services department and the Orchard Leisure Centre over recent months with a view to providing ‘quiet times’ for those with ASD and sensory difficulties.
Councillor Campbell said she was backed in this effort by Joanne McCracken, of the More than Words Autism Support Group, who helped to advise how the sessions could work to be more inclusive of the needs of those with ASD and sensory diagnoses.
The SDLP representative explained: “Joanne and her team of volunteers do tremendous work in lobbying for awareness and better services and facilities. Furthermore, the group provide their own range of social activities and their dedication and passion in supporting others is outstanding.
“People on the autism spectrum have different and varying needs, but one commonality is the need for quiet time.
“Social environments can be noisy and busy and this prevents many people in our community from being able to fully enjoy the services on offer.
“I want to see our council services become more autism friendly and inclusive of all citizens.
“Many of my constituents have expressed frustration that there is still a lack of understanding of the needs and behaviours of those with autism.
“As a council we have a responsibility to help foster better awareness and generate a greater level of understanding of the everyday difficulties faced by those with ASD and sensory issues
“I am a strong advocate of swimming and the water can be particularly calming for those with ASD, ADHD and other sensory issues, so I felt it was important to provide an opportunity for a quiet hour in the Orchard Leisure Centre by way of support.”
Councillor Campbell said she was “delighted” the initiative would be introduced.
An initial six week block of quiet hours will begin on Thursday, November 8, between 7.30pm and 8.30pm with a further block to follow after Christmas.
“I want to thank the officers for meeting with myself and Joanne to bring this proposal forward and I look forward to working with council on other opportunities in the coming months,” added Councillor Campbell.