When Danny moved from Florida, he didn’t know anyone and felt isolated in a new place. Being on the autism spectrum, change can be hard to handle so the move was difficult enough, but the idea of going to meet-up groups and feeling like he would need to explain himself to everyone seemed daunting. Rather than spiral downward, a counselor encouraged him to take matters into his own hands, and Autistics United was born.
“Community is really important to me because community can do a lot,” said Danny. “You don’t always have to wait for things to happen. You can just start doing it yourself. That was kind of my motto.”
Danny didn’t want to start just a support group. He wanted a community group where people would get together and do things all month long to have both a support and social aspect. It started growing one person at a time and word spread from there. It’s an organization run by people with autism for people with autism.
With 100-200 people signed up at any point in time, the group grew as Danny and his role did, too. A separate teen group was added, and Autistics United morphed into an official nonprofit with Danny as the executive director. But the one thing that stayed consistent was the idea of connection. What started as a way for Danny to connect with new people in a new environment became so much more.
“What we try to do is build better connections,” said Danny. “We try to get rid of social isolation and the blockage of communication. We want them to connect with family and friends and for everyone around them to understand and know more about autism.”
Going through the process of creating the organization gave Danny the ability to better connect with his own family, and he wants others to have that same opportunity. Autistics United does that through education and support. People with autism, even if they are only self-diagnosed or think they might be on the spectrum, are welcome to join the group. Currently, they hold monthly Zoom gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic but hope to return to in-person meetings in the future.
According to the website, “We have learned to cope by growing into the autism spectrum, not out of it. Autistics can be the best mentors and peer supports for other autistics. Rather than lecturing about what one should and shouldn’t do, we strive to simply share what we’ve learned along our own journey on the autism spectrum.”
During these get-togethers, they often have workshops and discussions on various topics and share their own experiences living with autism and the resources they use. This enables others to network and find out about services they may not have known about previously. There’s also a parent group where parents, caregivers and allies can connect with others sharing the same situations.
The connections are what drives Autistics United, even outside of the group. Knowing how important it is, Danny and the organization want to enable others to connect within their own groups, especially during the pandemic. They help others navigate online platforms to set up their own groups for minorities, people with disabilities and other groups with intellectual challenges. No matter what type of group it is, Danny wants to make sure people don’t feel isolated during this difficult time. Since online meetups are something Autistics United has been able to quickly utilize, they can share their experience and know-how with others to do the same. It’s what Danny finds fulfilling.
“I like meeting new people, and I like seeing people happy, coming out of their shell and connecting with different people,” said Danny. “Even if only two people showed up, that person connected with the other. It’s nice to see people have community and have a place where they can feel comfortable and be themselves. You feel connected and finally relate to someone going through the same thing.”
Autistics United hopes to continue expanding their programs to reach more people and make more connections. Future programs will include spectrum-wide mentoring and peer-support, multipurpose multi-level leadership, outreach, workshop programs and peer workforce advocates. If you’d like to help support Autistics United, you can make a donation and learn more about the organization on the website http://www.autistics-united.com/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org.