At their most basic level, autism networks are there to offer support. However, the type of support they offer depends on the network's specific focus. Some work to connect families and researchers, while other support specific portions of the autism spectrum or certain geographical areas. Learning the details about these networks can help you select the one that best meets your family's needs.
Why Join a Network?
An autism diagnosis can be an isolating experience, both for individuals on the spectrum and for the people who care for them. Much of the world is designed with neurotypicals in mind, and it can be difficult to figure out how to navigate the more complicated medical, educational, and social aspects of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). This is where networks can help.
Networks connect families to one another and offer services to help with various aspects of ASD. From recommending therapists and doctors to helping sift through the most recent research, they make it easier to live a life affected by autism. Although some offer support and play groups, they rarely stop there. Learn about the specific benefits of networks that may work for you.
Six Autism Networks to Consider
Consider the following excellent autism networks.
Interactive Autism Network (IAN)
The Interactive Autism Network is devoted to helping parents understand and participate in the latest research about ASD. A partner of the Simons Foundation and the Kennedy Krieger Institute, this almost decade-old organization has two main parts: IAN Community and IAN Research.
- IAN Community is designed to act as an informal library. There are articles that offer a real-world breakdown of research studies on everything from the affects of autism on families to factors influencing behavior issues. There are also webinars and essays by noted autism experts like Tony Atwood.
- IAN Research allows parents and adults with autism to answer questionnaires to facilitate research by major organizations. You can also submit blood samples for genetic research and find studies to participate in. You can choose who receives the information.
You don't need to join IAN to access the community portion of the network, but you do need to be a member to participate in research. Anyone who is a family member of someone with ASD or who has a diagnosis on the autism spectrum is eligible to join IAN Research.
Autism Network International
Operated by adults with autism for the international autism community, Autism Network International offers a unique type of support. This is not a network to offer financial or emotional support to caregivers and family members; it is a self-advocacy network for individuals on the autism spectrum. The philosophy behind the network is that individuals with ASD do not need to change to "fit in" with the neurotypical world.
Services of the network include helpful articles about the experience of having autism, an email discussion list, and occasional retreats for network members.
Joining Autism Network International involves printing and filling out a form and mailing it and a $15 membership fee. Only those who have a formal or informal diagnosis of autism or a related condition may join. Members receive quarterly issues of the Our Voice newsletter.
Asperger/Autism Network (AANE)
Specifically devoted to Asperger's Syndrome and high functioning autism (HFA), the Asperger/Autism Network provides support for children, teens, and adults. It offers help with the transition years from high school to adulthood and individual LifeMAP coaching. AANE also offers support and resources for families of people with Asperger's Syndrome and HFA, as well as educators who work with these individuals.
Some of AANE's support resources include the following:
- Employment guidance and practice interviews
- Phone consultations
- Spanish language services
- Rainy day funds for adults in need
- Grants for families
- Online support groups
- Articles and webinars
Membership does not require a medical or educational diagnosis. Family members and individuals can join AANE for $50 per year.
National Autism Network
Designed to unite individuals with autism, parents, educators, and medical professionals in improving the lives of those on the spectrum, the National Autism Network offers a wide range of services, including the following:
- Expert articles on research studies and autism topics
- Information and involvement on legislation related to autism
- Forums for members to discuss autism topics
- Provider directory for specialists in autism and related therapies
- State-specific information regarding insurance and vaccination laws
Joining the National Autism Network is easy. There are two levels of membership. The basic level is free and includes many of the resources listed above. The "Enhanced" level of membership includes access to webinars, the ability to write a blog and comment on others' blogs, and secure storage of your child's medical and educational records and profile. This level of membership is about $10 per month or $100 per year.
A social network for parents of children with autism, MyAutismTeam connects parents to one another for emotional and practical support. Through an interface similar to Facebook, parents can share stories, ask questions, post photos, and reply to others. They can search for other parents in their geographical area.
Additionally, the provider directory is a list of all types of providers with a good knowledge of autism. Parents add to the list based on personal experience, and members can search for providers in their area or who offer the specific services they need.
Membership in the MyAutismTeam network is free, and you can sign in with your Facebook account.
Autism Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN)
The Autism Self-Advocacy Network is an organization that seeks to involve individuals with autism with political and legal issues that affect them. Their motto is, "Nothing about us without us." Rather than taking a "cure Autism" approach, this organization seeks to promote the rights of individuals with ASD.
Operated by individuals with autism, this organization aims to change the world's approach to people on the spectrum. From expanding insurance coverage for assistive communication devices to changing April from "autism awareness month" to "autism acceptance month," there are a number of issue and projects that are priorities.
People with and without autism can join ASAN. Membership for individuals on the spectrum is $35 each year, while neurotypicals pay $50 annually. Membership benefits include a newsletter and information about local ASAN events.
State and Local Networks
Most states and some cities also have location-specific networks for individuals with autism and their families. You can find about about options in your geographical area by talking to your doctor or educator. These are a few of the options available around the country:
- Oklahoma Autism Network - This organization connects families, individuals, and providers and offers screenings, a referral system, research projects, and support groups.
- Grandparent Autism Network in Orange County - This California organization is specifically for grandparents of children with autism and offers support for caregivers, special needs advocacy services, and events with expert speakers.
- Heart of Texas Autism Network - Offering events and groups that promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with autism, this free network is a great resource for families in the area.
- A.N.G.E.L. Autism Network - This Wisconsin-based network unites families in the state and provides emotional and financial support for those who need it and seeks to raise awareness.
- Family Autism Network of Florida - Offering everything from legal and educational resources to sensory-friendly movie nights, the Family Autism Network of Florida is dedicated to connecting families to one another.
Choose a Network to Meet Your Needs
Whether you would like to meet other families and individuals in your area or get involved in advocacy groups for people on the autism spectrum, autism networks offer a great opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals. Think about what you'd like to get out of your network and then choose the one that best meets your needs.