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How the Feros Care Online Self-Advocacy Program helped attendees find their ‘neuro-kin’

Fostering a sense of community for people with Autism and similar Neurodivergent traits

Self-advocacy is something many of us struggle with, and it’s especially challenging for people with Autism and similar Neurodivergent traits.

Experiencing feelings of disconnection from neurotypical society is common, making the prospect of speaking up to advocate a want, need, opinion, idea, or cause very overwhelming.

To help change this, Feros Care developed an Online Self-Advocacy Program specifically tailored to people with Autism and similar Neurodivergent traits. It created a safe place where participants could share stories, validate their lived experience, and connect with others on a similar journey.

Facilitated by Feros Care Local Area Coordinators, the eight-week course was designed and delivered by non-binary autistic author and advocate Yenn Purkis. Reiterating the practical steps and foundational values of self-advocacy informed by their own lived experience and knowledge, it cultivated a real sense of community and belonging that has continued to thrive beyond the program’s final session.

Yenn Purkis smiling standing in front of group session brainstorming notes pinned on the wall

The who, what, where and when

The course kicked off at the end of March, and covered topics such an introduction to advocacy, knowing what works for you in your environment, autism advocacy in education and employment, accessing services, lived experience for social change, practicing advocacy across communities, promoting allyship, and how to best navigate friendships, family relations, and community interactions.

There were nine participants and five regular attendees, all identifying as autistic and neurodivergent. This was an ideal group size, as it allowed for maximum interaction and the opportunity to form genuine friendships.

Yenn Purkis was described as an inspiring, relatable, and passionate partner to bring this project to life. Boasting a long list of accolades and a wealth of knowledge in self-advocacy, they truly understand and champion the importance of finding your community.

The course concluded with a once-off face-to-face workshop held at the Salisbury Hub, providing the opportunity for attendees to meet each other, Yenn, and the Feros facilitators outside the virtual world. This further strengthened the connections formed and set the path for ongoing camaraderie.

Yenn Purkis, two Feros facilitators and three course attendees standing together smiling at final session where they met in the flesh.

The beginning of (many) beautiful friendships!

Throughout the eight-weeks, there was remarkable engagement with attendees working together diligently, sharing insights, building each other’s confidence, and exchanging valuable resources and experiences.

This led organically to the formation of truly meaningful relationships, and a commitment to further nurturing these friendships outside of the program.

In fact, connections were so strong that a Facebook group was created by one of the attendees to help participants keep in touch and grow their special bonds.

This was a fantastic outcome, as it strongly aligned with the overarching program goal; to empower individuals to advocate for themselves and build strong connections within their community.

‘Nothing about us without us’

The program provided a safe platform for attendees to communicate with like-minded people and build kinship through shared experiences.

Peer knowledge sharing was at the forefront of the course blueprint, with content developed for the autistic community by the autistic community. This led to increased confidence, helped attendees feel understood, accepted, and valued, and empowered their own self-advocacy.

The program design followed a Nero-affirming approach, informed by the expertise of lived experience. It modelled the importance of embracing differences of abilities, rather than viewing them as deficits which need to be ‘fixed’. It also spoke to the community’s responsibility to accommodate the diversity of the human experience.

Hitting the mark

Program feedback from the group was positive overall, indicating that it improved their understanding of the crucial concepts underpinning successful self-advocacy.

Furthermore, participants enjoyed the open discussions surrounding key challenges faced by people with Autism and similar Neurodivergent traits, describing them as both inspiring and cathartic.

“It (the course) emphasised that yes I DO deserve supports and accommodations, (and) helped me feel more empowered and have less self-doubt,” said one participant.

Another added, “I love that I have been given an opportunity to engage in the community workshops supporting an aligning Feros Care project, and this is definitely helping me to become more confident in advocating for the neurodivergent community to be a stronger ally.”

Comments like this were very well received by program facilitators, as they support the objective of promoting allyship. Creating more allies is key to paving the way for people in the wider community to actively support the rights of a minority group, without being a member of it themselves.

The unanimous highlight of the program, however, was forming strong connections within the neurodivergent community.

“I loved the opportunity to meet others,” commented one attendee.

“I cannot thank you all enough for the opportunity to be a part of this group! It’s fantastic that we still have our Facebook group to keep in touch as an added bonus,” said another.

Watch this space!

These outcomes point to one clear conclusion – people want more. More programs, more empowerment, more opportunities to connect and share with their community in a safe space.

With this in mind, planning is underway for future program rounds to be offered nationally later this year, so watch this space!

If you are interested in participating, you can express your interest here

To find out more about how Feros Care supports and empowers people with disability, click here.

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