Different Journeys is an ASD teen playgroup based in Victoria. It was born from two mothers who had found there were no opportunities for their teenagers to connect with similar friends. For one mother, it was about friendships and the other, inclusion and getting them out of the house in a safe and supportive environment.
Stephen Shore coined the phrase “If you’ve met one person with Autism, you’ve met one person with Autism”. Different Journeys is reflective of this because each and everyone’s journey with ASD is different – No two journeys are the same because no one individual is the same.
We didn’t want our teens to see this event as “more therapy”. In fact, we try to normalise the event as much as possible because going out for dinner with friends is something that everyone does including their peers. The teens, just like their peers could talk about the dinner back at school – Hence the idea of a dinner.
We made a decision to include parents, because of our own lived experience, we knew parents often need a lot of help and support; in particular those that missed out on early intervention as the child was not diagnosed until later. Having a lived experience, we understand the isolation and despair of no one telling you where you can access support; often battling on alone, feeling like you are a failure and struggling to connect with the right help.
The parent plays an important role at the dinner – which is to assist us to assist their teen if the teen is struggling or overwhelmed as it may be hard to manage without the support of the regular carer.
Different Journeys started in February 2016 as a social group for teenagers with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their carers. The concept is quite simply to get together on a monthly basis to connect with like-minded people. These “get-togethers” are regular events, where the teen and their carers connect with the world in a safe and supportive environment; these events reduce the stigma of mental illness, which affects both the teen and their carers.
In February 2017, we commenced our adult ASD group which is continuing to grow. It has been so successful that we now run the dinner every month.
Different Journeys dinners are a way for the ASD community to connect, empower and support each other in what can often be a lonely world; and the current statistics regarding individuals living with ASD are very alarming with respect to issues such as:
- Mental illness; and
- Inability to leave the house
Whilst we know we cannot fix all of these issues, we aim to try and make some improvements. By holding these dinner events, we are enabling participants to integrate within the community; form friendships; and where possible provide information for the potential connection to other available supports.
Rest assured it is not as “simple as putting on a dinner”. The dinners are carefully designed – putting strategies in place to ensure we maximise integration and connection of the teens and carers when attending our events.
The dinners provide us with the opportunity to support the ASD teen or adult but also their carers by:
- Facilitating the dissemination of information regarding the different types of available support including carer support services;
- Providing the opportunity for carers to connect with other carers who are supporting someone with ASD including sharing their journeys and their experiences with others who understand;
- Holistically support the carer and family unit including peer support;
The dinners provide us with an opportunity to:
- Provide insight and training to venue staff to help understand how to support people with ASD.
- Raise awareness in those living with ASD and their carers to understand their rights and equal opportunity;
- Broaden our knowledge and raise awareness as a community regarding the issues facing people with ASD and their carers.
At Different Journeys, we don’t charge membership fees, the exorbitant costs already faced by families are huge. We want a place they can afford to just come and be. We want social inclusion and remove the financial barrier.
Our venue, Club Kilsyth, has advised us that they have had to reeducate themselves with regards to “ASD Customer Service”. The commitment and passion they have for our events has been demonstrated through their staffs request to work at our events as they get so much enjoyment out of the nights.
We have created partnerships with many organisations including Interchange Outer East, EACH, Uniting and Maroondah Council. Another partner, the I Can Network, supplies a mentor to each dinner which has been a huge success. In fact, our logo was designed by one of our parents.
Some of our teens and parents have been trained in different aspects of volunteering including work health and safety which gives them work experience. On the night, they are considered leaders. It would be great to offer sustainable work for teens, adults and carers re-entering the workforce in a supportive manner.
We are a group of volunteers who started with an idea that is working. The results speak for themselves. Our teen dinners book out in 3 days of opening which shows the need and requirement to provide more locations.
Whilst we have only had one location, we hope to expand into many other locations. Our big dream is to have a Different Journeys in many pockets of Australia. In a perfect world, we would have funding to be able to support and sustain our program. Watch this space in the future, fingers crossed we see more Different Journeys.
Tony Attwood, world-leading expert in Autism said, “People with ASD don’t suffer from ASD, they suffer from the way people treat them” – Little by little we are breaking this down and making everyone feel more accepted in the community.
Please feel free to make enquiries through our email firstname.lastname@example.org