When you register for one of our peer support groups you will be sent a welcome email from myself.
Attached to this email will be a document titled 'Group Agreement' and the email recommends that you read the group agreement before attending your first session. The document contains quite a list of statements about interacting and confidentiality.
We also have audio recordings of both our Group agreement:
and 1-1 Agreement:
Group agreements are used in peer support to help us set healthy boundaries for ourselves and our fellow group members. To help us participate in a way that does not impact us negatively and to reassure group members that our group sessions are safe spaces for autistic people. Something we work hard to try to provide.
So we include such statements as:
If I am becoming overwhelmed, I will take a break or turn my camera off, if I do so or leave the session, I will try to let the facilitator know if I am okay or not.
I recognise not everyone will feel comfortable making eye contact. I respect and understand this.
I will acknowledge I don’t have to fit in or present my ‘best self’, this is a group where I can be myself.
I understand self-stimulating behaviour and that this may be part of the group experience.
I suspect if I was sent this list when attempting to participate in a new activity, I would just shutdown and not attend - we don't want that to happen for you.
So I'd like to clarify that the group agreement is not a list of rules to be remembered and there is no expectation that a member of the group should remember them all. It is not that kind of formal environment.
Too often as autistic people we are told how to interact, what to say and what to do so much so we end up tying ourselves up in knots and suffering incredible anxiety just trying to get it ‘right’ in any given social interaction. We portray the person and social skills that we think people expect us to be and in the way we are expected to. Not in this space.
We actively want our sessions to be the space where that negative and unhealthy expectation is not allowed! If you need to look away from the camera while talking, do it. If you need to flap your hands, do it.
If you forget peoples faces and names, or go blank when speaking, just explain that it can happen. There is no judgement, we all experience similar things, I'll ask what can I and the other members do to help.
As group facilitator it is my job to 'keep you right'. For example, if you do seem to interrupt other members often it's my job to give you a kind and gentle nudge and help others speak. If some behaviour or action is affecting our ability to connect as a group it's for me as facilitator and the group members to respectfully discuss and to put forward helpful suggestions.
Anxiety about meeting new people is expected, but for autistic people this can be amplified to harmful levels by our experiences of previous social interactions and expectations. If we acknowledge that it's okay to be nervous and don't add that additional anxiety about getting it right and remembering rules we are more likely to a) be ourselves and b) enjoy it. Most important of all we will be able to access a unique space where you can meet your community.
The agreement also belongs to the members, if you feel we can add or amend it's contents to make our spaces even more accessible and safer we encourage you to let us know.