Autism Community Support – What Can You Offer?
Community based organizations and groups reach a variety of individuals with varying needs and wants. Not every organization will have access to trained professionals in all requested areas of support, but there is a lot you can provide at the grassroots level.
There are several options that can be offered in the community around support, interaction, and information. Four ideas are workshops, support groups, information sessions, and activities and recreation.
A workshop is a collaboration to learn something, acquire a skill, create awareness, or provide an opportunity for someone to have his/her needs met. Workshops are great for brainstorming, interactive learning, building relationships, and problem-solving.
Workshops can be theme based. There could be a series of workshops based around one theme such as employment or you may decide to offer several different-themed workshops over the course of several weeks or months. They can have the objective of creating a peer support network. There should be a planned curriculum, opportunity for peer networking, and discussion.
The steps to planning a workshop are:
- Define the goals/purpose
- Decide who will attend
- Choose the right location (online or in person)
- Create an agenda
- Develop a follow up plan (questionnaire, evaluation sheet – some way to get feedback from the group)
Workshops should have a high level of participation from the attendees. Figure out the best way to do this – small groups, breakout rooms, a facilitator for each small group.
Support groups can empower and connect people. They provide a safe place for people to open up, be themselves, realize there are other like-minded people, and help participants take charge of their lives.
Support groups are not necessarily theme-based, do not have a defined outcome, but open up the possibility of regular meetings. The support group can be drop-in or one that participants have to pre-register for. The idea would be to create a fixed peer group that meets sequentially at a regular time and place over a period of weeks or months.
The objectives of a support group could be listening and learning about commonalities and differences, alleviating isolation, learning to understand personal issues, dealing with difficult life experiences, or exploring new ways of learning. Since starting a discussion can be difficult with people on the spectrum, it could be a good to bring in a speaker to launch a discussion. Facilitators would have to create parameters for discussion.
An information session is a stand-alone session. It can have a larger number of attendees but because of this, interaction would have to be limited to a facilitated Q & A. Information sessions provide the opportunity to give references or handouts with information for follow-up or continued learning. Any topic can be chosen that interests a group.
Activity or Recreation Group
An activity or recreation group can center on interests such as an adult card game, computers or chess. These groups are self-driven so put the question to the people as to what they would like to do. If the group needs ideas for activities, some suggestions could be going to a movie, art classes, hiking, visiting a museum, attending a concert, playing laser tag, going to a comic book or games store, or going somewhere peaceful like a park.
Be aware that individualization of an activity within the group activity does not cause a problem. For example, if the group goes to a games store, it will not take away from the activity if everyone is looking at what interests them.
Facilitators can set the tone for the group. Work to hear the voices of the participants – what do they like and not like, what excites them, what would they like to try. Stick to the announced plan and do not give in to the demands of some people to change the activity because other group members who decided to attend based on the activity will be disappointed.
A schedule is important because it provides predictability and allows people to make decisions about what is being offered. If you can, give the entire schedule for the season ahead of time. If the activity is weather dependent like a walk in the park or kayaking, make sure there is a back-up activity and let the group know ahead of time what that will be.
For more information on how to support leisure activities, have a look at this blog post.
No matter what you decide to offer in your community, deciding on the purpose/goal, detailed planning and delivery, and how to support the group needs to be at the forefront when organizing any offering.
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