Setting up your own Support Group
Step by Step
Autism NI will have your contact numbers and meeting details for your group. Autism NI will profile your group in the ebulletin and on their website. They will keep you informed of events, activities, training, lobby news, etc that may be of interest. Autism NI will keep you in touch with other groups for advice and ideas. Autism NI will give you as much support and advice as required. If the group decides on Branch status Autism NI will help with this process, by providing Committee Training, Child Protection and Vulnerable Adults training.
Step 1 Motivation
You don’t need 10, 20 or more people to initiate a support group. The ideal number is 4-5 interested parents/carers but you can begin the process with one person. Contact the Autism NI Family Support Team on 02890 401729 for support, advice and guidance at this stage. The goal is to create a core group that you can build on. And one person can start the ball rolling to get to that stage. Talk to local GPs, teachers, other professionals. Do they know of other parents/carers of children with ASD? Could they help publicise your new group? Would they pass your contact details onto other parents/carers?
Step 2 Venue
Decide where there is a local venue that can accommodate your group. It needs to be accessible to all sides of the community and be available at the time and date you need it. Ideally the cost of using this space would be free but if there is a charge, find out how much it is and check with your local council community services if they help with start up costs for a new group. Talk to the Autism NI Family Support Team to see if a start up grant is available to help with initial costs. Some Autism NI groups meet in local schools, community centres, health centres, or social services buildings. Check your local paper or posters about other types of groups and see where they meet, it might help you locate a venue.
Step 3 Time and Date
Decide when would be the most convenient time for potential members. Day time works for some parents as children can be at school during that time. Evening works for parents who may be out at work during the day. You may not be able to suit everyone so work out what suits your core group and aim for that time. It will also depend whether your venue is available. Decide how frequently you would like to meet. Most Autism NI groups meet monthly but fortnightly and weekly are also possible. Think about what you and other parents could manage. Ideally stick to the same time and date each month, as then people who miss a meeting will know when the next one is.
Step 4 First Meeting
Having your first meeting might seem a bit daunting. Think about what would make you feel relaxed in that setting. Other parents/carers coming along will feel equally as nervous. Having a cup of tea/coffee and a biscuit can often break the ice. Also having information and resources that might be of interest can also help. Talk to the Autism NI team about getting resources, information packs that could be of interest to parents/carers who come to your meeting. Think about how the meeting might run. A rough agenda might help you focus but it is equally as important not to be too formal.
Begin with introductions, explain why you thought it was important to set up a group, ask people who are interested in attending the group to fill in their names, addresses, telephone number and email address on a sheet that you circulate, so that you can notify them of subsequent meetings.
You could also ask parents/carers who attend what they would like from a support group. It might help to have someone from Autism NI there to help you. They might do a short presentation on Autism or help parents with their queries.
Step 5 What to do when Established
Supply Autism NI with contact details and meeting details for your group and update this information after each meeting. The Family Support Team get calls daily from parents from all over Northern Ireland asking about support groups in their area. They can profile your new group in the ebulletin and on their website. They will keep you informed of events, activities, training, lobby news, etc that may be of interest to your group. They can also put you in touch with other groups to meet up and share activities with. Autism NI will attend your meetings initially until your group find’s it’s feet. If after a year your group decides to become a Branch, Autism NI can help with this by providing Committee Training and Child Protection and Vulnerable Adults Training.