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 am 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, we are patiently waiting to welcome a 175th member!
Our cover photo/logo was chosen by the members on the 10th June, and now graces the page. We had five very good entries, a tie for first place, so held a second vote. Nichola Thomson designed the winning entry.
Dorothy Daldry, Gary and I are the Admins and 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 including keeping kids in bed during these short nights, and diet – mostly how to get them to eat a more varied diet than chicken nuggets and chips!
We are also glad that we have been able to support a few people privately via messenger and email, and Gary has set up a fortnightly 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, and to get 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 fund raising – an increasing need these days. We have already had a few ideas from the group, and hope to put them into action soon.
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 “ Grampian Autistic society Support Group” or click on the link here: