A Queen’s University student from Carrickfergus is using his experiences of living with autism to help raise awareness of the condition.
Ryan Hendry, 19, was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, an autistic spectrum disorder, at the age of 13.
A former pupil of Carrickfergus Grammar, Ryan set up awareness group Holding Out A Hand to help others living with the condition.
“I was diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder) when I was seven and the signs of autism were there from primary school,” said Ryan.
“The biggest problem I was facing was trying to communicate with others in my class. I didn’t really know how to talk to people or have conversations, with either my fellow pupils or teachers, so I couldn’t tell them I couldn’t understand things. If something wasn’t laid out very clearly or structured, I would be unable to do it, and things like working in a group were impossible for me. I would also find it impossible to keep myself organised; I was constantly losing books, worksheets, homework.
“When I got to secondary school, it took a while to actually get the diagnosis, but once I did it actually explained a lot and the support I got from the school was great.”
Receiving one-to-one support through a classroom assistant, Ryan went on to complete his A-Levels at the Grammar, earning a place to study Law at Queen’s in 2012.
Earlier this year, he ran for charity officer in the QUB Students’ Union elections. “That gave me the chance to talk to people about autism and some were surprised at how common it is; there are 20,000 in Northern Ireland alone who have some form of it,” he said.
Ryan established Holding Out A Hand in late 2012, coinciding with his move from secondary school to university.
“I do a bit of fund-raising for the National Autistic Society through Holding Out A Hand, but I also give talks and things like that,” he added.
“Children with Asperger’s might think they’re not able to go to university or have a future, but I want to show them that they can and that there’s support out there for them.”
Ryan also started a blog last year on his experiences of living with the condition.
“I set up the blog because there was a lot of information on the Internet from doctors and other professionals, but very little from people on the autistic spectrum. It’s rare for people like us to be able articulate ourselves, particularly in writing,” he said.
Ryan’s blog is available at whatsitliketolivewithautism.com