For some time the Board had been discussing setting up a ‘Friends of GAS’ or something similar to engage more with our services users, their families, carers and autism professionals, such as teachers and medical professionals, along with others in the area who might be interested. We had thought to launch this earlier this year and ‘dip our toe in the water’ regarding a support group. However, coronavirus put paid to that, but spurred us on to consider how we could help people during lockdown and beyond.
During a Board Meeting at the end of March, we discussed this further, and we decided to set up an online Support Group which would be run by volunteers. We wanted the Group to be ‘open’, so to speak, from 8:00am until roughly midnight, because we had noticed that a lot of the messages to the Facebook page, were on evenings and weekends, when GAS staff were not available.
After a couple of Zoom meetings to discuss the parameters of the group and the group rules, we launched on 10th May. There were a few teething problems, but, we were properly up and running by the weekend, when we found we had 50 members. This soon doubled, and by the time we launched our logo competition we had 130 members. As I write this (October 2020), we are patiently waiting to welcome a 250th member!
Our cover photo/logo was chosen by the members on 10th June, and now graces the page. We had five very good entries, a tie for first place, so held a second vote, and Nichola Thomson designed the winning entry.
winning logo by Nichola Thomson
Dorothy Daldry, Gary and I were the original Admins, but were recently joined by Heather Brock from the group. We have been humbled by some of the stories shared via the page. We have also been delighted by how the community have come together to support one another. Not unsurprisingly the main topics so far have concerned: coping with lockdown and schooling issues; but there have also been a few other lively discussions regarding keeping kids in bed during these short summer nights, and diet – mostly how to get them to eat a more varied diet than chicken nuggets and chips! Over the months, more adults with an ASC have joined the group, who have shared their stories and added a further dimension to the group, often able to provide insights into topics raised, from their own experiences.
We are also glad that we have been able to support a few people privately via Messenger and email, and Gary, with Margaret’s support, has set up a regular Zoom Chat Group. We also hope to establish a Zoom Chat Group for 18 to 25 year old’s to provide friendship and mutual support, there are plans to establish local Zoom groups in preparation for getting together post lockdown to establish local support groups.
Our aim is that the group will grow and expand organically – that it will be shaped by the members themselves regarding topics covered, etc. But we also hope that the members will feel part of GAS, and will have a role in shaping future services, and provide ideas for fundraising – an increasing need these days. We have already had a few ideas from the group, and have already put two into action: The Virtual Pet Show, and The Body Shop Fundraiser by Caroline Dempster.
The group has already taken part in a couple of online consultations as GAS formulates its strategic plan for the next 3 to 5 years, and several members have expressed an interest in joining the Board, so watch this space! I am sure the group will continue to feed ideas into the work of the Society.
So far, the feedback from the group has been positive with comments such as:
“For me the group has been more about a local connection. It’s great being in […] ASD groups but even better when they are local people … It’s nice to feel a connection to others in the area.” — H
“Thank you for… all your help and understanding … I can’t stress enough that this group has been more help in the last week than […] over 5 years. It’s so nice to speak to people who have a real understanding of what it is like… Thank you for taking the time to just “be there” for others.” — K
“I know, now I am not alone. Feel confident to ask questions even though I may feel they are irrelevant, and never made to feel like we are excluded.” — A
“Just wanted to say thank you, I pm’ed the admin who were great and so helpful, if you don’t feel comfortable posting on page don’t hesitate to contact admin they were great and understanding.” — D
“I have just been on Gary’s Zoom call. It was very helpful and really nice to meet a couple of other mums in similar situations.” — K
If you would like to join the online support group, look us up on Facebook (group name: Grampian Autistic Society Support Group) or click on the link here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/549521709100181/
Written by: Margaret Hodder (Director, GAS Board)
N.B. This article was originally published in July 2020 and was updated on 30th October 2020.