Tallaght sisters set down roots with new after school service

by Gary Ibbotson

Two Tallaght sisters have officially launched Ireland’s first ever after school service for children with autism.

Lydia Conlon, who now lives in Blessington and Jessica Conlon who still lives in Tallaght have worked for a combined 20 years in the education and social care sectors.

Lydia says that the idea of an afterschool service came after discussing the lack of specialised provisions for kids with autism in the country.

She says: “The idea for our afterschool came about one day when we were discussing our work and the difficulties within our roles, and we got chatting about how children with ASD need the right environment and peer support to socially succeed.

“We both felt strongly that children needed to feel part of an inclusive community with people who have the right attitude and understanding to help them succeed and it made us realise that something needed to be done for children who are of school-going age.”

The sisters also have a familial connection to autism with their younger brother and two nephews also having the condition.

From November 2018 to August 2019, Lydia and Jessica ran messy-play classes in Jobstown Community Centre where kids with autism could freely express themselves. Every class sold out immediately and they realise that there was a demand for the service.

Called ‘Twigs’, the sister’s initiative won Best New Idea at South Dublin’s Best Young Entrepreneurs Awards and were awarded a €7,000 investment grant.

The money went towards putting a deposit down on new premises in Killinarden Enterprise Park and renovations to the space. They opened their doors on September 9, 2020.

Jessica says that Twigs offers something unique to kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

“Twigs is an assisted afterschool that offers unique planned activities to our ‘Twiglets’. These activities include social story enactments through play, team games, Pecs and Lamh practice through play, and messy play.

“We also offer follow on assistance with OT and sensory diets, physical and outdoor play, homework help, and peer to peer encouragement.

“We are passionate about helping children and we take a very person-centred approach to ensure we create a fun, safe and calm environment for each child.”

Jessica says the service has been a success so far with some kids even saying their first words while attending the classes.

“We have also seen many children their communication skills through learning LAMH and through the use of Pecs.

“The children are creating friendships and bonds that otherwise would have been extremely difficult and that is what makes our afterschool program so special.”

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