Kevin Hanly Tells His Story18 Apr 2017
“I’m beginning to feel that I am on the right path and more importantly it is the one I want to be on and going in the right direction!”
Autism, Tipperary GAA and I.
My journey, Then and Now.
By Kevin Hanly
I’m beginning to feel that I am on the right path and more importantly it is the one I want to be on and going in the right direction!
My name is Kevin Hanly, I am 22 years old and I am from Tipperary. Growing up with autism and dyslexia wasn’t easy. There were a lot of ups and downs along the way.
I am delighted to be giving the opportunity to write about my experiences for The journal, The42 and The Friends of Tipperary Football. I hope to share with you some of the highs and lows of my journey as a learner and to look forward my further education but not forgetting my love of Tipperary GAA.
I am currently an adult learner with the National Learning Network (NLN) in Limerick. In September, I plan to commence a Level 5 media course in the Limerick College of Further Education (LCFE). This course will cover modules in film and TV production and for me, to be at this point in my life, I thought it would never be possible.
Growing up with autism and dyslexia I found life, learning and school very hard from a young age. I found it difficult so for others to understand me was even harder. There was the pressure of trying to fit in, in life and school. At times, I felt isolated, different and self-conscious.
With the support from my special-needs assistant, resource hours and my parents being there all the way up along from the start of my childhood, I got through primary school OK but things for myself were just going to get tougher! I was developing into a teenager and that brought its own stresses on top of being autistic, especially with all the changes in my life like starting secondary school where I didn’t know anyone.
I went to Cashel Community School as there was an autism unit there and I could attend mainstream school but I knew the first day that the secondary education system wasn’t for me, as they didn’t understand my way of learning which made it even harder. It is a one system fits all which means you must learn in one particular way with books, study and exams which is a very old outdated way of learning. Instead, we should embrace everyone’s individuality and let them express themselves.
When I was in third year I got sick with meningitis and then my mental health started to suffer. Things went from bad to worse! When I did go back to school there was lots of pressure; exam pressures, pressure to catch up and the pressure of trying to fit back in.
I worked as hard as I could and passed my junior cert. I did it at a cost. Now I felt more isolated and had fewer friends. When I went into TY I put my head down and got through the year. It wasn’t as tough because there was not the pressure of exams and there were assessments through the year but I had the same social anxiety, being judged by my peers which made me feel anxious, embarrassed and depressed.
In fifth year it started to all unravel and my mental health started to suffer again. I made the decision with my parents to leave school just before Christmas in fifth year.
I went to speak to the HSE Occupational Guidance Officer about my options before I moved to the National Learning Network (NLN). She gave me some great advice and support. It was a big change leaving main stream education.
I started to fit in. I had friends and my confidence rose. I was no longer afraid to be myself. I smiled and people smiled back. I could go to shops, talk to strangers and travel independently and my reading and writing improved. I finally had improved self-belief. All this was a big help to my self-confidence as I am a passionate follower of the Tipperary football and hurling teams.
I have been able to focus more on self-advocacy, being assertive, looking at a careers and further education options and do QQI modules. I now have greater self belief and I have recently undertaken two evening courses in Limerick College of Further Education in film production and photo shopping.
My social skills and independence have improved and I have been able to do work experience. I have also found social outings to be very beneficial. I have also been a member of the local representatives committee in the National Learning Network in Limerick.
Last year I was a member of the Limerick National Learning team that was nominated for an AONTAS Award. Fortunately, we won the AONTAS Star Award which was a boast for us learners and staff alike.
Our Project was called Limerick Soundscape. The Project captured everyday sounds in Limerick City via a recorder and we are uploading the various sounds onto the Limerick sounds scape map. Therefore, in years to come the inhabitants will be able to get actual sounds of the city.
We then got the opportunity to speak on the radio about the Soundscape Project and the how our Team won the award on Limerick’s Live 95 FM. From this point, I started to put myself out there which led to me being interviewed on Tipp FM and Today FM about autism and Tipperary GAA.
First I was on Today FM with Colm O’Shaughnessy, the Tipperary footballer. Chatting about overcoming some of the obstacles of having autism, dyslexia and also discussing my love of Tipperary football and how it’s help with my autism.
I got the opportunity then to go on Tipp FM sport program called Straight Talk with Jackie Cahill to discuss my further my love of Tipp GAA and talk about the great relationship I have with the Tipperary GAA players and about the famous jerseys I have been given by players which means a lot because they just accepted me just for me being myself.
(In the link, I start talking at around 46 minutes into it)
I got invited this year to the AONTAS STAR Awards 2017 as the keynote speaker as they seen the work I have done in the press. At the award ceremony, I was talking about my own experience of adult learning and how it has changed my life, the impact of winning an AONTAS STAR Award last year for us at the National Learning Network (NLN) group in Limerick also how I have used this experience to help to highlight the great work I have done in NLN.
(29:08 – 45:38 – I speaks to Fran about growing up with autism)
That lead me back on Tipp FM with Fran Curry to talk in depth about autism, the education system and my friendship with the Tipperary footballers. I was trying to give people an insight that is was like for a child growing up with autism in Ireland today and try to get people to understand the challenges of ever day life.
When look back on all the things I have achieved to date with overcoming the obstacles and the people who put me down in life as I had a so-called disability I would say to them “I can succeed and I will succeed”. If you asked me honestly growing up and entering adulthood if I believed in myself no but my family and a few close friends did. That’s all you need someone who believes in you because we all have ambitions, dreams, aspirations, goals, a purpose and hope we shouldn’t let anyone take that from us.
What I’ve achieved so far:
- Confidence and independence like being able to talk in front of a group of people about my experience and trying to help people in the same situation as me or who are in school and finding things hard.
- I have completed and passed a minor level five QQI in video editing and production, hope to go and further my career in that area.
- We won an AONTAS Award at the AONTAS STAR Awards last year with my fellow students at the National Learning Network (NLN). We gave an interview to local radio about itwhich was a great experience. Then invited back as the keynote speaker this year.
- The Opportunity of speaking in the media about my experience of living with autism and how it’s affected me in my life.
- Becoming a well-known Tipperary GAA supporter, so called number one supporter!
Which leads me now nicely into– Tipperary GAA: Football/Hurling
A couple of years ago when I felt isolated and didn’t have many friends, Tipperary GAA kept me going. When I went to the Tipp games I just became a different person because I found fellow supporters with the same interests as me.
The social aspect was huge and it got out of my shell especially the way the Tipperary GAA community is, we have a close bond, we know everyone and we are very passionate about all our teams from football to hurling! I couldn’t get enough of it and went to all the Tipp games from minor, U21 and senior, of course there was highs and lows along the way!
I try to be the best supporter I can because it gave me purpose in life and some of the greatest memories, especially the hurling All-Ireland Finals of 2010 and 2016, great days.
I am not forgetting about the Tipperary footballers. I don’t know where to begin. Over the years for me it was an honour to be there every step of the way, especially all the historic day we have had. They were very, very special. It’s safe to say they all know me by now as I was always the first one on the pitch to celebrate or commiserate with them, always making sure I took a few photos along the way to capture the moments.
In the last number of years, I have become good friends with the Tipp players especially the footballers and any matches coming up I all ways wish them good luck, I might give them a bit of advice too!
(I am great friends with the footballers and hurlers too.)
The Tipp footballers and I have a lot in common: In my life people put me down equally with Tipp footballers, people didn’t give them a chance and now look at us. What I have learned over the years from the Tipperary footballers is a never give up attitude even against all the odds we can succeed.
In the last year or two the Tipperary football team and I have struck up a special friendship and I shared some great moments, they just see me as me like one of the lads not like Kevin with a disability which happened in school, getting a label!
I can’t speak highly enough of all the Tipperary football players because I felt valued and in a place where I belong especially last year the Tipperary football captain, Peter came up to me after the game in the All Ireland QF to give me his jersey. I could not believe it and there was an article about it, was the classiest gesture from Peter. https://www.sportsjoe.ie/gaa/amazing-fan-footage-and-the-classiest-gesture-from-tipperary-players-makes-the-story-even-better/89701
(I was even interviewed for thethe42.ie about the great year 2016 was for Tipperary football) https://www.the42.ie/tipperary-football-oral-history-2016-3123183-Dec2016/
2017 for us has been up and down I was at every football league game as ever giving them my support but when things didn’t go our way I didn’t worry as I know these lads so well now they won’t give up. The way the league went for us with the last game we had to win up in County Armagh so we would finish in the top two and qualify for the division 3 final. safe to say we didn’t make it easy for ourselves with nearly time up we were two points down but Michael Quinlivan got the ball and kicked it past the goalkeeper for his third goal that day.
A week later we were on the way to Croke Park for the final against county Louth. Earlier in the games we lost to Louth but we were well prepared going in to the league final but this game wasn’t as dramatic at the end as the week before as we had a lead by five points with fifteen minutes or so to go. When the final whistle blew, it ended up Tipperary 3-19 Louth 0-19 and yes, I was celebrating!!
I called down to the training to see my friends and to discuss about autism. I hope this will highlight that, even if you have autism, you can succeed and make something of your life.
Colm O’Shaughnessy- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-CEBnjGMnOY&t=1s
Liam Casey- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qmo_MepMS7o&t=2s
Brian Fox- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bv6lXiCRDPI
A massive thank you to the three guys Colm, Liam and Brain for their time. They are great friends to have and they just see me for me.
The friendships I have with Tipp players even when they’re at the other side of the world and not playing for us at the moment but doing us proud. I do stay in contact with two very special people who have been an inspiration in my life who are Colin O’Riordan and Peter Acheson I can’t speak highly enough of those two lads “great guys”!
I asked Colin about getting to know me and the way he and lads excepted me for me:
“I suppose the best way to put it is you were always there for the team regardless of the weather or type of game. You were always one of the loyal ones that backed us regardless through the good days and the bad days, you were an inspiration to many on that team and you still are, the way you are always positive and always supporting us mean so much to the boys. we never looked at you any differently, or treated you differently because of your autism, you were in fact just “One of the lads” and we excepted you for who you were. your positivity was contagious and always gave us a lift whenever we were feeling a little down.”
I asked Peter the same just about getting to know me and the friendship we have:
“I saw Kevin long before I met him. I noticed a guy at every game and some training sessions also. Which is unheard of for Tipperary footballers. Tipp football has long been in the shadows and not exactly a team renowned for having support. But the supports we have are the best/genuine you’ll ever meet and Kev tops the pile by a long way. He became part of the team due to his great support and I feel it’s helped him grow in a big way. I have no idea how autism may affect one’s life and I could only guess how hard it may be for someone, but Kevin has overcome it and it’s great to See him doing so well. Very proud of him and I’m sure there’s great things to come from this kid in the near future and I know the tipp footballers will be backing him all the way”
The words Colin and Peter said I can’t believe it with the inspiring words they used, for myself they are two guys who I look up too. It is an honour to have them as friends there two great Tipp men.
With the championship around the corner I am looking forward to it with my fellow supporters and the players as I’m lucky enough to call them my friends.
In life or in sport you should dream, believe and succeed. You never know what will happen?
Thank you all to for provide a platform to The journal and The42 share my story and for allowing me to share my experiences. Hopefully I have shown that even if a learner does not finish secondary school and so-called disability there is always another of achieving your dreams.
Thank you to my parents Mary and Tim Hanly for being there with supporter and help along the way.