Mencap NI is the lead partner in the Youth Inclusion Hub, which supports trains and provides resources for Youth Settings, as well as advising on inclusive youth work in Northern Ireland.  

The Hub makes a real difference to the lives of young people with a disability by helping youth settings and organisations to be inclusive of all young people regardless of their ability.

St Michael's Youth Club in Magheralin, County Armagh is a volunteer led part-time Youth Club, with a membership of 75 young people.  The youth club used best practice to include a young person with high functioning autism in their club.

In September 2017 a parent, approached St Michael’s to enquire if their son, who has high functioning Autism, could become a member. The parent completed a registration form including all of her son’s additional needs and information.

The youth club held a meeting with the mother to discuss the young person needs, comforts, interests, games and what to do if he ever became annoyed. 

One thing that helped with the transition of the young person joining the Youth Club was that one of the volunteers at the club had been his baby sitter when he was younger, so he had a familiar person who he knew him.  

The youth club also trained another volunteer to support and understand his needs should the other volunteer not be available.

In order for any child that has a disability to have a positive experience the volunteers at St Michael’s felt that good communication with parents is paramount along with having information about the disability.

The Club also recruited some of the older young people to act as a buddy to look out for him, which provided an extra pair of eyes and hands, creating a supportive and nurturing environment.

The other factors that are critical for inclusion to work are ensuring there are enough staff and volunteers, having volunteers and young people trained in disability awareness. Good communication and teamwork always works best.

The specific changes that have enabled the inclusion of this particular young person,  who has Autism, has been having Lego, providing a quiet area, structure activities and information displayed on a white board, with plenty of notice given if there is to be any changes in his activities.

Some of the challenges experienced by the group have been managing the reactions of other young people, getting the right level of support and managing difficult behaviours that are new to volunteers. 

Staff also completed Managing Behaviours that Challenge training with the Youth Inclusion Hub, which helped with volunteers developing their skills on dealing with challenging behaviour.

The leader-in-charge of St Michael's said the inclusion of young people with a disability has been a valuable experience for everyone involved.