Tell me more about your organisation
The Autism Community Network (ACN) is a charity focused around building a strong community of support for autism. We use our combined knowledge and experiences as carers or individuals in the 'autism community' to help each other.
We now have over 1,300 families who come together as a community online and in 15 LGAs across Sydney and Wollongong to create a society where people with autism and their families can lead meaningful and rewarding lives.
We support the needs of our community through varied ways.
- Support groups, social groups, kids clubs and sharing information
- Use volunteers with lived experiences to run most of our activities, people who understand the needs and issues first hand
- Connect people through Secret Status Facebook pages to communicate with the network, on a local area level, within common interest groups and cultural backgrounds
- Members login to enable booking in to events, update their own information and recommend services
- We promote credible research projects to enable people to support those working to create a better, more inclusive future for our children.
How long do the meetings go for? How many people attend?
Typically, they run for 2 hours. Every group is different, some regularly draw 5- 10 carers on average, others may only have 3 or 4. But these meetings are important to everyone who attends them, it is often their only way to connect with people they can share with and who understand them.
What happens during the meetings?
Everyone has a turn at speaking (if they wish to) as we go around the table, telling us how they have been travelling since we last saw them and what issues they may be dealing with for their children. The facilitator’s role is to ensure everyone feels relaxed and welcome and they bring any new information that they may have learnt to share with the group.
Can you tell me how parents and carers benefit from the meeting?
By hearing from others about how they may have dealt with challenges they are seeking answers to, it is primarily an opportunity to connect with a community of people to whom you never have to explain yourself or your child’s behaviours. Everyone has been in similar situations those with older children impart their experience and knowledge, and those who are new to the diagnosis feel reassured that everything will ultimately be alright.
Do they look forward to it each month?
ACN has now been providing carer support groups for 8 years, and in that time we have grown from 2 groups to 15 regular support groups across 15 different LGAs and growing rapidly. It is a reflection of the need out there for carers to connect with each other; the smiles and the friendships we have seen develop over time in each area are:
This comment, by Andrea from our long running Hornsby group, says it all.
"I have been attending ACN Support Groups and the social events for some time. ACN Hornsby Support Group members have walked with me and my son through the last 4 years of major challenges and tears, triumphs and laughter and most importantly the group feels like family to me. My son, who has problems forming and maintaining friendships, now feels at ease at the social outings with the group. He feels so accepted by the families in our group and looks forward to attending each month's social outing".
Can parents bring their children to the Carers Support Groups?
While it is always easier for carers to speak more freely without children present, we understand that sometimes parents don’t have the option of coming alone, therefore if bringing your child will enable you to come to the group, please do so. We will endeavour to sit children nearby at another table so they can interact with each other during the meeting. We offer many support groups across various days and times to enable carers to choose a meeting time and location that suits their needs.
Can anyone become a member of ACN?
Anyone who lives in NSW and has a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder or has a family member with a diagnosis can become member simply by going onto our webpage: autismcommunity.org.au
What does it cost to join the ACN?
ACN does not and never has charged families to join. While the general rule is our groups are free, we do on occasion based on interest organise events and families choose to pay their own way, such as ten pin bowling.
Can members attend groups outside their local area?
Yes. Members are most welcome to attend any groups they wish to regardless of where they live.
Tell us about the activities that young people can attend?
We provide a range of opportunities for children, teens and young adults to socialise and gain new friends and skills including cooking, bowling, fitness club, sailing, art and tickets to special events including the Easter Show and Taronga Zoo.
Do parents need to remain onsite?
If the child is under 18 the parent or carer must remain onsite as ACN are not qualified child minders and the parent/carer ultimately understands the needs of their child and their best interests.
How do we book into groups and activities?
Members can log into the ACN website and book into activities up to two weeks in advance. While we appreciate sometimes it is difficult to plan ahead, it helps us to know who intends to attend so if the meeting is cancelled or postponed we can notify members.
What if I have booked into something and can’t go?
You can easily cancel your booking online, this would help as most of our facilitators are volunteers give up their own time away from their families to facilitate the groups.
Anything interesting or important information you would like to include?
ACN is made up of parents, carers and individuals impacted by autism issues. Our policies are simple.
- We never charge for any of the services we provide.
- All our groups support groups are run by local carers with a lived experience of autism.
- Our support network is structured around people being able to share information and recommendations to help make each other’s lives better.
- As we don’t have funds to run our groups, we rely on local carers volunteering, and community organisations supporting us. The new support group for the Bankstown community is a result of local mum Jean, who aside from being a parent of children on the autism spectrum, is also a qualified social worker, and the generosity of Bankstown Sports Club, who provide us with a suitable room to meet at each month at no charge
Do you advertise other services and businesses on your website?
ACN have decided not to include paid advertising on our website to maintain the integrity of our organisation. However, members are able to make recommendations on our website that can be viewed by other members. One of the ways we support people is through secret status Facebook member pages where members are encouraged to share positive experiences relating to schools, health professionals and services.
Does ACN support credible research projects?
We believe that the more research into areas concerning autism there is the better the possibilities will be for our kids’ future. We are regularly approached by universities, students and academics to promote their research. We post their information on the “Research” page on our website freely and encourage our more than 1,300 families registered with us to see what’s there and consider participating. Unless otherwise stated, we are not involved with the research projects themselves.