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ABA Therapy

Supporting Families With Autism Through Community Building

This blog article is part of a series dedicated to Autism Awareness Month. To read the previous article in the series, click here!

Supporting individuals with autism takes patience, creativity, and passion. For parents, helping their children learn and grow can sometimes feel like an uphill march, especially if they lack access to community support and resources. While there’s a wealth of autism resources available online and from autism therapy companies, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and isolated on your autism journey. Luckily, you’re not alone.

One report published in the academic journal Frontiers in Psychology found that lower levels of community engagement and supportiveness can “reduce the involvement of children with ASD in community activities and increase feelings of isolation in their caregivers.” Low community “supportiveness” not only reduces the attendance of ASD families, but also decreases engagement for those who do attend community events and participate in group activities. In short, the more community support your family has, the easier it will be for your child to overcome communication, cognitive, and social barriers related to group participation.

Of course, community supportiveness and engagement isn’t a universal constant – depending on where you live, your family may have more or less access to community resources and events. Your comfort level attending these events and activities may also vary. Some parents worry about their child having a tantrum or becoming overstimulated in a public space, leading to an outburst. Whether or not this is likely to happen, it helps illustrate why many parents skip public events and feel isolated from their local communities.

Community Support for Autism: Why It Matters

Community support and engagement have always been an essential part of a healthy and fulfilling social life. Humans typically thrive in social structures where they know and respect their neighbors and peers. For children with autism, understanding and navigating these social structures can be challenging, especially if they’re unfamiliar with members of their community outside the core family unit. In the most basic sense, community engagement enables children with autism to feel welcomed, included, and supported in real-world environments. Since social isolation is common in individuals diagnosed with autism, it’s crucial for parents to seek out opportunities for socialization and relationship building outside the home.

Parenting is hard in general, but the reality is that there are extra hurdles for families raising a child with autism, and for the child themselves. It is crucial to find support within your community, whether that be from other families like yours or people who are nonjudgmental, inclusive, and passionate about helping others. A great place to start is to research autism parenting support groups in your area or locate nonprofit organizations that host events near your hometown. These support groups and public activities allow parents with ASD children to network with one another, set up playdates, and share parenting tips.

Attending local events, whether they’re directly related to autism or just fun activities for family, can also help encourage your child to practice their social and communication skills. The more practice your child has interacting in public spaces and with groups of people, the easier it will be to continue building up their social skills. Of course, you’ll want to be sensitive to their emotional and behavioral bandwidth to avoid overstimulation, but even an hour at the park can go a long way to helping your child feel engaged, confident, and included.

Supporting Autism Awareness and Engagement in Your Community

In some cases, there may not be meaningful support for children with autism in your local community. Rather than giving up or hunting down a virtual support group on Facebook, take this as an opportunity to be the change you want to see in your neighborhood. If there aren’t any fundraisers or events dedicated to autism awareness, consider starting one with the help of other families and nonprofit groups in the area. You don’t need to rent out a large space or put on a big production, as even a small community cookout can help bring other local families to the table.

Promote Autism Awareness

Promoting autism awareness can not only help educate the public about this increasingly common developmental disorder, but it can also help build a warm community of like-minded parents. Of course, don’t feel pressured to keep everything solely focused on autism – commit to inclusivity by welcoming children of all backgrounds and medical conditions, and get to know their lived experiences. Over time, you may be surprised how quickly a dedicated parenting support group can form and how much of an impact it can have on your child’s day-to-day routine.

Start small by having conversations with friends, family, and neighbors about what autism is and how it impacts learning and behavior. Doing a bit of research can help you find the right words for all sorts of potential social interactions, from small talk at the park to a discussion at a family get-together.  For tips on having these and other conversations about autism, check out this useful Parent Guide from Autism Speaks.

Search Out Autism Advocates and Charitable Organizations

There are many autism advocacy groups and charitable organizations across the US that operate both at the national and local levels. While building your own community of local parents and individuals with special needs is ideal, starting from scratch can be difficult if you’re new to the area or haven’t met other families in the neighborhood. Depending on the state or city you live in, there may already be large groups and organizations that host autism-related events, activities, workshops, and social outings. These in-person events can be a great way to get to know other families in your community, speak with mental health experts about your child, and set up playdates with other ASD children.

Here are a few autism organizations and advocacy groups that regularly host in-person events, but remember to also look for other, more local socialization opportunities:

  • Autism Speaks hosts charity walks, fundraisers, and other events across the country, most of which are free for families and friends.

  • Pathfinders for Autism is a Maryland-based autism advocacy group that organizes free recreational events at local attractions, such as the National Aquarium and Minor League Baseball games.

  • The Autism Project is a collaboration of parents, professionals, and community members in Rhode Island dedicated to spreading autism awareness through family support groups, local events, and educational resources.

  • The Autism Society of Alabama helps families and individuals with ASD access essential therapy services, hosts in-person community events, and shares free parenting resources online.

  • The Asperger/Autism Network is a Massachusetts-based organization that has helped families access information, education, community, support, and advocacy for autism since 1996, and was founded by a small group of concerned parents and professionals.

  • The Philadelphia Autism Project helps families living in Philadelphia connect with one another, access essential autism therapy services, and raise funds for community events and resources dedicated to ASD.

This is only a handful of the autism advocacy groups and charitable organizations that host in-person events, workshops, and activities for ASD children. To discover what’s happening in your hometown, be sure to look for local autism organizations and support groups – a simple Google search can help you locate all sorts of fun, engaging activities.

Join a Social Skills Group

Joining a Social Skills Group (SSG) is another great way to network with other parents of ASD children, participate in fun family activities, and build a local community around autism acceptance and support. At Applied ABC, we encourage parents to join or host Social Skill Groups to give their children more opportunities to socialize with peers who have similar developmental challenges. We supply host families with an assortment of games, craft materials, and activities that connect to ABA therapy practices, ensuring everyone can continue working toward their development goals and have fun doing it!

 If you’re already part of the Applied ABC family, reach out to your case manager to ask about Social Skill Groups in your area. We can help pair your family with an active group close to home or work with you to start your own Social Skills Group. All SSG meet-ups are fully supported by an Applied ABC Behavior Technician (BT), who will attend the event and help everyone feel engaged, included, and welcome.

If you’re interested in starting ABA therapy, reach out to an Applied ABC team member to get the process started today! We’ll help walk you through every step of the journey, from filling out your ABA assessment to finding an ABA therapist.

This blog article is part of a series dedicated to Autism Awareness Month. To read the next article in the series, click here!


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