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All the best: we talk to Autism NI chief Arlene Cassidy

We ask local celebrities what are their most favourite things

The 62-year-old is the chief executive of Autism NI and has just been awarded an MBE for services to autism by Prince Charles. She is divorced and lives in Belfast with her two children, Stephanie (29) and Andrew (25).

My best moment

I have two — the two days my children were born. They’ve grown up to be my best buddies in this crazy world. Now that they’re grown up, I can really talk to them and ask for their advice on things.

My best song

I’ve been through phases on everything from classical music to folk rock. At the moment though my favourite songs are If You’re Happy And You Know It and Head, Shoulders, Knees And Toes. I look after my grandson Frankie, who has just turned one, two days a week, so those are the songs I find myself singing the most.

My best way to relax

Walking my two Shetland sheepdogs, Tyler and Harley — my daughter gives me National Trust Membership each year, and I love finding a quiet spot in Rowallane Gardens with the dogs.

My best job

My background is in social work but I’ve been with Autism NI since its beginning in 1992. I worked with children with learning disabilities for 12 years at Barnardos and we were getting more and more children who behaved in a way that we couldn’t understand. I’ve had the incredible journey of developing the charity and as they say, they’ll have to chase me out the door with a big stick. It’s given me the opportunity to test myself and develop skills that I never thought I would have.

My best advice

I have to mention my 84-year-old mum here. She has a strong faith, which she has passed along to me and she always tells me that in times of trouble I should lean back on my faith.

My best gift

There’s a big tradition of buttons in my family — I call my kids Button and my mum has a big tin of buttons that the kids would have played with when they were young. For my 60th birthday Stephanie and Andrew bought me a necklace and earring set crafted with buttons on. It wasn’t hugely expensive but it’s something very personal to our family.

My best achievement

Being involved in the Autism Act — I even helped draft the legislation that became law in 2011. Until then there was confusion as to where the Disability Act covered autism. It wasn’t a priority for anyone because it wasn’t seen as a disability. There aren’t many times you get the opportunity to change the law of the land.

My best buy

My daughter and I bought some massive Christmas decorations — a snow globe and a wreath — about six years ago on a trip to Salzburg. We struggled home with them, but I still have those decorations and it has started a tradition that anytime I go away somewhere, I bring back a decoration. I now have a wonderfully eclectic mix of decorations.

Best book

My escapism is crimes novels so I love authors like James Patterson and Kathy Reichs, but my all-time favourite book is To Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee. It’s all about challenging your prejudices and looking beyond what you see on the outside.

Best film

I like films like Avatar and Guardians of the Galaxy. I like CGI and films that have a real life message behind them which Avatar definitely has. It’s not just another film either — movies such as Avatar change the face of films to come with their technological advances.

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