Milo Quigley is a 22-year-old media student from Derry/Londonderry who was diagnosed with autism at a young age. Milo says he always found social interaction difficult until he joined the group Parents of Older Children with Autism (POCA) in early 2015. POCA helped him to not only make friends within the group but also reach out to people outside the group. Very quickly, Milo went from being introverted to being outgoing and social, and it is through POCA that he discovered Headliners.

“I joined Headliners at the tail end of 2018. Although I always hung out with my friends, I didn’t really have anything outside of school that wasn’t purely academic, something I’d look forward to.”

Being a media student at the North-West Regional College, Milo was drawn towards the journalism techniques that Headliners had to offer. For people not 'in the know' Headliners helps marginalised young people to find a voice through media and journalism. Young people take part in weekly sessions and take part in activities such as debating, learning interview techniques, handling film and sound equipment. Its very hands on and young people are able to produce their own media content quickly. For Milo, Headliners helped him develop the skills he was already using in his student life:

“I’ve learnt a lot about journalism, picked up skills and developed the ones I already had. In my studies I tended to specialise; for example, I’m very good at editing and paperwork. But with Headliners I got to try the more practical side of media, and I feel like I’ve become a better media student since I joined Headliners.”

"Headliners has enabled me to spread awareness and make autism better known to people who would have been a little ignorant about it."

Joining Headliners didn’t only have an impact on his professional life. Milo says that being part of a group and having to reach out to people he didn’t previously know has been beneficial and has enabled him to open a conversation.

“The organisation also helped me as a person. In the Bureau I got to meet new people, which was nice because it helped me reach out to others when social interaction would sometimes be an issue. I’ve been able to open up and not speak only to people I already know, and I’ve been able to have conversations I otherwise might not have had the chance to have. 

Personality-wise I am the same person I was before I joined the groups, but perhaps more outgoing. I feel like I’ve become more of a people’s person since I joined, so really Headliners has helped me as much in my personal life as in my professional life. I’m glad I joined both groups because it gave me a better understanding of people and I can have nicer conversations with them.”

The conversations however are not only with the young people, and Milo adds that since he joined, he has been able to explain to people what living with autism felt like: “I’m well used to living with autism because I’ve been living with it for so long, but Headliners has enabled me to spread awareness and make autism better known to people who would have been a little ignorant about it.”

When asked if there was one particular element of the Headliners sessions that he enjoys above the rest he said “I do enjoy all activities, but if I had to pinpoint the one I like the most it would probably be camera work because I’m a media student and I like the practical aspect of it all. But even the conversations we have that are technically related to our work, like the planning of a project – that’s something I absolutely adore. Flip charts are a weird thing to love but I do. The only thing I’d change would be the length of the sessions, I’d like to stay longer but that’s just because I want to spend more time in Headliners.”

Since the beginning of lockdown, Headliners has been determined to stay in touch with the young people, using technology and virtual meetings on a weekly basis. More than ever, being in touch regularly and ensuring that everybody was keeping well was crucial. When asked if the online meetings helped him go through this very unique and scary time, Milo said:

“Having something to look forward to every week has absolutely toned down the dullness of being in lockdown for nearly three months. I hate the lockdown, though I don’t think anybody particularly likes it. But being part of a group, sitting down and getting to talk to people has been nice because otherwise I’d be sitting doing nothing. I hate not being productive, feeling that I’m being lazy and doing nothing. Headliners has also motivated me to get my coursework done and handled in time.”

Milo has now completed his final year as a media student despite the Coronavirus pandemic and handled all his coursework. He is looking forward to seeing friends face to face again and being able to enjoy the summer without having to think of deadlines.

To see some of the media that Milo has been involved in creating take a look here at a story he wrote about his experiences during lockdown and here for a film he co-created about POCA.

Milo Quigley is a member of the POCA group and the Bureau in Headliners Foyle. Thank you to The National Lottery Community Fund for helping us give young people like Milo a voice and for making these stories possible.