Family thrilled by President’s warm welcome

“It was like paying a visit to a relation, the President was that welcoming.”

So said Eric Isherwood as he, his wife, Veronica and their son, Colm, left Áras an Uachtaráin after enjoying tea and cake with President Michael D Higgins yesterday.

Colm, 24, had been invited to the Phoenix Park by the President to help celebrate World Autism Awareness Day.

Colm, who has autism, loves to paint and earlier this year one of his paintings was chosen by the United Nations Postal Administration to feature on stamps promoting Autism Awareness Day.

“It was brilliant. The President spent a whole 45 minutes with us. He loves art so he was delighted to chat with us and Áine Crowley, Colm’s art teacher, about Colm’s work. We had a tour of the place, it’s amazing, and we were sitting in the state reception room on the same settee as the Queen and the Obamas. We just sat there chatting and drinking tea. It was great,” he said.

“The President is a lovely man. He treated Colm like he was an ambassador for autism. He had done his research, he knew that Colm had a twin brother who also has autism. We explained how he couldn’t come as he’s not a great traveller.”

Eric said President Higgins’ love of art was very apparent. He told the Isherwoods how he’d been to Mayfield Arts, Newbury House, on a number of occasions and was very enthusiastic about art as a way of combating social exclusion. Colm’s teacher, Áine Crowley works from Newbury House.

“He was telling us how the Mayfield Arts Centre was his second official engagement as President and how they were doing great community work there. He also said how we ‘must have been through a lot’ with the twins. It was ‘fair played to ye’ really which was very nice. He gave Veronica a huge hug when we were leaving. We were astonished.”

Colm, from Mahon in Cork, has autism and can’t speak. He communicates using PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System), which means he uses pictures to express his needs and wishes.

He first started painting three years ago when Áine Crowley became an arts facilitator at the Brothers of Charity, Lota. Colm had been quite frustrated at the time but it soon became clear that art was a channel for his frustration.

Two years ago, Colm’s paintings were submitted for exhibition at Cork Institute of Technology.

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