For all parents, seeing their children take their first steps, hearing them speak their first words, watching them learn and grow, and witnessing them enjoy their childhood is a cherished experience. However, the parenting journey can be vastly different for people with children with autism and other special needs.
Even though Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can affect the timeline and progression of your child’s development, it does not mean that your experience is any less rewarding. Although your path may be different than other parents with typical children, you do not have to navigate it alone. There are autism support groups that can provide you with the resources, guidance, and emotional support you need as a parent or caregiver of a child with special needs.
Autism support groups connect people facing similar challenges and others in the larger autism community. These groups also offer guidance on finding therapies and educational programs that can be tailored to the unique needs of your child.
In this article, we will discuss autism support groups, including the different types of groups, their benefits for parents and families, and how to find the best support group for you.
Autism support groups provide a safe and supportive environment for families with children with autism to connect, share experiences, and learn strategies for coping with daily struggles.
Raising a child with autism is often quite challenging and can at times make you feel frustrated, isolated, and helpless. Autism support groups are a great way to meet other parents with children on the autism spectrum and gain insight into the best practices for the care and guidance of a loved one with autism.
These groups provide a sense of belonging, connection, and support, which helps in raising your special child without feeling so alone. Besides providing support, these groups offer tools, information, coping strategies, and guided therapy to make you well-equipped to deal with the unique issues that come with having a family member with autism. Support groups also organize frequent social opportunities, like casual gatherings, group play sessions, and special events, to help children with autism build friendships and practice social skills.
There are different types of autism support groups that cater to specific needs and provide different kinds of support.
Peer-led support groups are run by parents and caregivers of children with autism or by those who have autism themselves. These parent support groups are more informal and less structured. They offer a wide range of perspectives and give a sense of understanding and empathy that may be difficult to find in a group led by a professional.
Professional-led groups or organizations are strictly run by professionals like doctors, therapists, counselors, teachers, and volunteers that are specially trained to work with children with autism and their families. The groups generally have a specific focus or structure and are led by people who have a distinctive background or training.
Family support groups create a forum for entire families with the aim of connecting people and creating awareness about autism. Similar to peer-led groups, here family members share information as well as suggestions to meet the daily challenges of caring for a loved one with autism.
The goal of educational support autism groups is to share valuable information on autism and the latest developments on therapies and strategies. These are all-inclusive groups for parents, caregivers, family members, teachers, therapists, and community members. These groups will help you understand the best ways to guide and support a child’s development.
Many families do not have the time or are not located near enough to attend any of the above types of groups in person. In that case, online support groups be a great help.
Forums, Facebook groups, and other web-based online communities are great alternatives for physical support groups where parents, siblings, grandparents, and other loved ones of special care children can lean on each other and exchange information.
Parents, family members, or caregivers of kids with autism often feel isolated from their general peers. Such families undergo an emotional upheaval that begins even before the official diagnosis.
Being a part of the supportive autism community makes the journey a lot easier by helping parents and children in several ways:
Autism support groups provide a platform for parents and caregivers to share their experiences, challenges, and ideas for managing autism-related issues. They help parents gain insight into the behavioral patterns of their special children and learn effective strategies to deal with certain frustrations and situations.
For instance, one parent might share a tip on how they got their child to sleep through the night; another parent might share a strategy that helped their child with communication when they were angry or throwing a tantrum.
Although every family experiences different emotions about having a child with autism, joining support groups helps reduce the feeling of isolation. It’s not uncommon for parents to experience some grief while they watch other parents have a seemingly easier time. This would make anyone feel alone.
Participating in autism support groups helps parents positively deal with these negative emotions and feel less distant from other parents. These groups not only increase awareness, but also create an environment where parents and caregivers can connect with families going through similar problems.
There is no denying that you are always supportive of your child. But as humans, it’s natural to get frustrated in stressful situations. You may feel angry, helpless, or overwhelmed when your child’s behavior becomes unmanageable.
Autism support groups are a safe space where you can express your frustration, anger, or disappointment without judgment. Just getting your emotions off your chest can bring some comfort. You will gain a sense of relief to learn that you are not the only one who experiences such emotional turmoil.
Don’t be too hard on yourself and understand that it’s ok to lose hope and feel disappointed at times. It can be especially tough for parents whose child has recently been diagnosed with autism to adjust to their new reality. In a support group, parents can express what they are going through and will learn that they are not alone in this journey.
Expert-led support groups provide relevant information about autism and best practices for raising children with special needs. Experts can address all kinds of issues your child is having that is causing you concern, like poor communication, learning, and social skills; slow development; obsession, aggression, or self-harm; unusual reactions to a certain sounds, smells, or looks; and so on.
Looking for support and resources for your child with autism? Contact Therapyland for evidence-based therapies and clinical expertise in a unique, themed environment. Join our community of parents, family members, specially trained therapists, and educators to get the guidance and support you need. Let us help your child reach their full potential!
When joining a support group, it’s natural to feel anxious about opening up and sharing your own experiences. However, it’s important to remember that everyone in the group is there for the same reason, to seek support and advice. You should keep an open mind and be respectful of others’ opinions and experiences, even if they differ from your own.
Here are a few tips to effectively engage in a support group:
If you’re uncomfortable speaking or sharing your story during the initial days, you’ll still benefit simply from listening. Be an active listener and try to relate to others’ experiences and struggles. Even if your situation is not identical, you can still learn something and walk away with valuable advice that will come in handy in the future.
Give your input in group discussions and share your ideas to keep the group conversation flowing. Others may want to hear your opinion regarding certain situations and the strategies you adopt to provide the best home environment for your child.
Go into a support group with an open mind. Parents and family members of children with autism are already going through a tough time; the last thing they need is judgment from other members.
People come to such groups to feel safe from rude criticism and able express their innermost feelings, even if they stem from fleeting moments of frustration. A supportive attitude is crucial. Some members may raise topics that rub you the wrong way, but understand that autism is different for everyone, and the entire family is going through an emotionally exhausting journey.
Most support groups have a specific set of rules and guidelines, such as keeping things confidential, equal participation, etc. Respect and follow the rules in order to maintain the integrity of the autism support group you joined.
Understand that the other members of the group are also seeking emotional support. These group sessions are not meant to be one-sided transactions. Small gestures like active listening, a pat on the back or hug, affirming their feelings, giving your input, and so on, are enough to make the other members feel supported.
Treat the group members as your family and lean on them in times of need. Don’t hesitate to share anything that’s troubling you, like an odd behavior of your child or disturbing thoughts you may be having. You should feel comfortable asking for advice.
Support groups are a powerful source of positivity, but it’s only effective when you let go of the baggage. Immerse yourself in group sessions and allow others to help in order to get the most out of the experience.
All autism support groups have a set of formal or informal guidelines that maintain the privacy of the group. This is done to protect the group members from external judgments so that they feel safe to share their personal journey. You must refrain from disclosing group or member details outside the group.
Many autism support groups have expert-led sessions where you learn and practice new skills and techniques to handle the different behaviors of your child. These sessions can prepare you for any new changes in your child and how to deal with them without feeling stressed.
If you don’t have reliable autism support groups in your area or are unable to join one for some reason, all is not lost. There are some excellent national support groups for parents and family members of people with autism. These groups can provide relevant information and resources to educate you about autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They can also offer support and guidance whenever you need extra help.
The Family Network On Disabilities (FND) was founded in 1985 by parents of children with disabilities with the intention of sharing information and mutual support. With constant support from its members, FND has grown to be able to provide assistance and support to families, parents, educators, community groups, and faith-based groups as they prepare their children for the outside world.
Family Network On Disabilities now includes programs like the Parent Support Network (PSN), Parents Offering Parents Information and Networking (POPIN), Parents Education Network (PEN), Special Needs Star, and Family Star.
The mission of FND is the complete integration and equality of people with disabilities in society.
The Asperger/Autism Network (AANE) provides individuals, families, and professionals with information, education, community, support, and advocacy. It was founded by a group parents and professionals in 1996. AANE aims to build an inclusive community that serves people with neurological differences and their extended families.
The Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD) support groups aim to help families from all social backgrounds obtain adequate treatment for visible progress among children with autism. CARD uses Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) techniques to create a unique curriculum for families with autistic children.
CARD programs include School Age & Adolescent Programs, which provide comprehensive programs targeting learning across multiple skills and focused programs targeting learning in specific areas.
Moreover, there are CARD ABA Programs, which include Center-Based Services, Practice In Natural Settings, and Caregiver Collaboration.
CARD has trained hundreds of individuals with autism, and most of them have shown positive outcomes in successfully leading independent lives.
TACA (formerly known as Talking About Curing Autism) was formed in 2000 by just ten families with children/ family members with autism aiming to support each other along this tough emotional journey. Now, TACA supports over 83,000 families around the country.
TACA understands that there are underlying medical conditions that cause the symptoms of autism and provide resources, support, and information to families based on the latest scientific discoveries about this disorder.
The best part is TACA is a group of families with autism helping families with autism. The main goal of the organization is to empower families to help their children with unique needs lead a happy, full, and independent life.
Therapyland is an all-inclusive organization that aims to help children with autism, communication issues, and other developmental disabilities to overcome their limitations and gain independence.
We bring together quality therapy services and education methods all under one roof. Our ABA therapy services use data-driven and evidence-based methods to help reinforce desirable behaviors, discourage unwanted behaviors, increase self-esteem, improve social skills, and develop emotional competence. Our comprehensive program can also enhance academic performance and teach life skills so children with autism can reach their fullest potential.
Furthermore, Therapyland is a tight-knit community that is here to support children and their loved ones. We work with all types of families to teach parents and children coping skills to help them navigate the unique challenges that come with developmental disorders. Additionally, we hold special events to bring the entire family together and offer opportunities to socialize and meet with others in similar situations.
For more information about Therapyland programs, therapy services, and events, contact us today!