Join a support group. We can suggest a few national groups for you (see our sponsor’s links on the right side of the screen), or you can do a search for autism groups in your area. Support groups are designed to encourage, to aid and to provide resources to its members. Local meet ups, lending libraries and workshops are just a few benefits some support groups offer. When you’ve found a group that meets your needs and views, participate! If getting to meetings or events isn’t possible, find out if your group offer online message boards or social media opportunities. If they do, keep abreast with your groups’ news by joining their Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest pages. The best part of those social media pages is that not only can you network and stay in the loop from the comfort of your home, joining these pages is free.
Attend a Conference. Conferences are another way to stay connected with other parents and advocates in the community. Conferences are offered by various groups and entities throughout the year. The national ones tend to draw in large crowds with big-name presenters. I find that these conferences are quite fulfilling. Gaining accesses to in-the-field practitioners, networking with fellow parents, professionals and persons with autism, and having time to socialize after learning all day is part of the experience. If traveling to the larger conferences is not an option, look for smaller conferences or workshops in your area. Those may be sponsored by therapy clinics, through local support groups or via online webinars.
Contact your Representative. You have needs; your representative has resources. It may not always seem like this, but your representatives work for you. Talk to them. Find out what they’ve supported and what they’ve sponsored. Tell them what you need them to do for you. Take a few minutes to stop in their local office to introduce yourself. Get to know the staffers, especially the health staffers, so that you can build a positive relationship. Then, send emails. Send tweets. Join their Facebook conversations. One click, one phone call, one FB ‘like’ lets them know that you are actively engaged. Stay engaged in what’s on their radar in the hopes that they, in turn, can know what’s on yours.
Adopt a family. For those who are not directly affected by autism yet, you are bound to know someone who has. Ask that family if they need anything. If it’s a specific allergen-free grocery item they can’t find locally, or if their child is in need of a piece of therapeutic equipment, or if it’s simply an hour of respite that could help them so that they can stop, breathe and refresh, find time to offer assistance to a family. If you can, make helping a habit. By just being available, physically and even from a distance, can be the best gift.
Tell your story. Some people do this already, so keep on talking! Continue to tell your story. People are listening, and we need to keep the conversation alive. We have become a go-to resource when it comes to autism, vaccines, environmental triggers and more. So talk to new parents and parents-to-be. Tell them what you know and what you’ve learned. Direct them to a support group where they can feel safe asking their questions. Suggest reading material for them so that they can start their own research. Remain available to these new parents. Be there for them because you know all too well what it feels like to not have any support.
Those are just five easy things to do over the next twelve months. Can you do it? Can you pick one suggestion from above and do it today? If you already made your own list of autism advocacy resolutions, do share your ideas with us. We’d love to see what autism action you have planned for 2015. Let’s work together to keep our children safe, to keep the conversation going, and to keep the spirit of giving alive all year long.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.