You may wonder why my blog title is ‘AWEgust Day 3′. The reason for this is that I’m undertaking a challenge to raise money to train more mentors for the I CAN Network. I will be writing a blog post every day between now and the 31 August. So far some good people have donated $18.50 and I’ve had a promise of $93, which is good but I am hoping the raise a little more than that. Here is the link for donations if you feel the need:
Today is one of my favourite days of the month – the first Monday, as it is the night for my women’s group. I’m going to write this blog in two parts – before the group and after. I will be leaving in about twenty minutes. When I return it will be after the group and I shall reflect on it, or that is the plan anyway.
Before – 6:40 pm
I have been facilitating my women’s group since 2011. It is run by Autism Asperger ACT, the local Autism association for Canberra. I have had two co-facilitators who are staff of AAACT, Julia and Gillian. When the group started I was quite unwell with mental health issues. In fact I missed a good number of groups during 2011 and 2012. The group is for Autistic women and mums of girls on the spectrum (some of whom are Autistic as well as their daughters). At first I struggled as a facilitator. I felt like an impostor. Why was I doing this? Weren’t there other women that could run the group? I missed half the meetings and was in hospital a lot of the time. Surely I was a terrible fit for this. I didn’t actually think I was up to the task until the first group in 2013, when Gillian started working with me. She did something wonderful and terrifying: she asked the women to say what they thought of the group and what they got out of it. One woman who often contradicted me and I thought disliked me immensely told me how she looked forward to the group and it was one of her favourite things, Another woman said it was the best thing in her life. I realised then that I was helping to provide an environment where Autistic women felt safe to talk about anything and everything. It provided an opportunity for women that they probably didn’t get anywhere else – the opportunity to be themselves, to be comfortably Autistic and to be in the company of people who understood a lot of what they experienced. Wow!
I realised that the women’s group was one of my favourite things. It is real, honest and I get a lot of support from it myself. The thing about facilitation is that you learn from the participants and draw strength and support from them. I always worry that I am too vocal as I am quite an extroverted little Jeanette but I’m sure someone would have said something if I was being too overwhelming and loud. I hope they would.
I find as an Autistic woman that I feel comfortable and safe with many other Autistic women. In fact,when I attended a conference for women and girls on the spectrum in 2009. One of the days was facilitated by Professor Tony Attwood and was just for women on the spectrum. I felt unlike I ever had before. Being among a large group of other Autistic women was like coming home. I deeply understood at that point that I must indeed be on the autism spectrum myself, after years of doubting. Given the difficulties faced by women on the spectrum around misdiagnosis and lack of understanding of the kinds of differences women on the spectrum often shere, having a women’s group seems quite a useful thing to do.
After – 9:42pm
As always, the group was quite wonderful. We had a couple of new people. I always feel like the group is being assessed when new people come and I want to impress them and let them know what a great group it is. Of course I have no idea what they thought. I can’t read facial expressions very well and most new people don’t make a lot of comments. I suppose if they come back next month it probably means they found it helpful.
I always feel energised after women’s group. I feel very comfortable with the regular attendees and I think they feel comfortable with me. They often have a bit of a laugh at my expense, which I love. Women’s group is like my family. I care a lot about everyone and feel very protective if anyone is having a hard time or being mistreated by someone. I am so lucky to have the group. It is probably my favourite part of my Autism world work. I mean, lots of people get to speak at conferences and write things but our group is something particularly special. There’s nothing like it. Thanks to all the attendees – new and old, past and present – who have made it what it is.