Community Spotlight: Autism Community Network (ACN)
Relationships and social connection are vital for the health and wellbeing of autistic people and those that love and care for them, regardless of age, background or other co-occurring conditions or disabilities. Vanessa Gauci discusses how the Autism Community Network empowers autistic people and their loved ones to form meaningful connections with other autism families in the community.
Autism Community Network (ACN) was founded in 2011 by the father of a young boy and a grandfather who met in the school playground. They both started chatting about their loved ones, the commonalities, the little wins (which are always big wins for us parents) and started sharing their thoughts and knowledge with one another. From that initial meeting, ACN has now grown to support over 2000 families.
As we know in the disability space, we seem to gravitate towards one another, and once we share that we have an autistic child, whatever their age may be, we feel connected and part of a tribe.
At ACN we provide that tribe, a safe place to share the good, the bad and the ugly. No judgement, just compassion, understanding and empathy. It’s okay to be honest and raw. To talk to others about the television being smashed … again, the despair we feel as a parent/carer when we can’t understand our non-verbal child. To cry with sadness and then relief when a child has absconded and is thankfully back home safe and sound. To laugh and feel an unbelievable sense of pride when we share amazing feats our children have achieved. Something new like looking you in the eyes for the first time, attending a group, making a friend, applying for and succeeding in a job interview and so much more.
With groups across 14 local government areas, our volunteers play a vital role in assisting us in providing a holistic approach to supporting individuals and families.
ACN encourages and provides peer to peer supports. We believe it is imperative autistic families know that through ACN, whether they have a formal diagnosis or not, are funded or unfunded through NDIS, we are there for them. A pillar of strength to lean on, an organisation which help them find their voice, particularly when advocating for their child and a network comprising of decades of lived experience.
Some of the activities our autistic children and young people enjoy included bowling (a favourite for all ages), laser tag, outdoor activities and cooking, to name a few. They also love our family days. A great opportunity for siblings to come along and meet others with similar family dynamics.
Our Autistic Adults Social group, which started off in Riverwood, not only assists in developing social skills, it also allows the opportunity for our autistic adults to have a voice. We always ask if there is anything anyone would like to share and as they have become more comfortable, we have had one person get up to talk about attending their first ever concert. He accredits being able to attend due to his increased confidence from attending the social groups.
Another young person, after hearing his peer speak a month prior, got up to share his story about having a transplant at a young age and participating in the World Transplant Games. He shared medals and a video. It was amazing to see everyone so attentive. This is what it is about, providing a space where our individuals feel comfortable to be their authentic self.
Our wonderful parents, who are amazing carers also need to be looked after, encouraged to take a break. As they say when on a plane, put your oxygen mask on first, because you are unable to help others if you can’t breathe yourself.
At ACN we provide carers support groups, both face to face and digitally. There are private groups through WhatsApp and Facebook to ask questions, share knowledge and connect. We also run carers activities. We have a strong focus on spreading awareness on the importance of having a break. A time to stop, reset, reflect and rejuvenate, so we can be the best we can in supporting our loved ones. As a carer, we do a lot. Often it feels like we are climbing a mountain and never going to get to the top. It is with this in mind that we remind our carers how important it is to be aware of one’s mental health and to reach out if struggling.
At ACN we also provide information, resources and support for critical life milestones and transitions. This is enhanced by being a proud delivery partner of Autism Connect, the national autism helpline service, proudly funded by the Australian Government Department of Social Services. We also offer professional services to educate, train and provide resources to the wider community.
Registration to join the ACN family is free: https://acnaustralia.org.au/registration/
If you would like to learn more about ACN feel free to click on any of the below:
- Website www.acnaustralia.org.au
- ACN calendar of activities to book in to our groups and activities
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org
At ACN we see you, we hear you.
Written by Vanessa Gauci, Chief Executive Officer of the Autism Community Network