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2.7. Give examples of the contribution that informal networks can make to supporting individuals with autism and their families.

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Informal networks are groups and services that allow people in similar situations to come together and discuss the challenges that they face as well as share possible solutions. For example, support groups exist for individuals with autism to support one another, as well as groups for the families of individuals with autism. Informal networks can also include friends and family members, as well as other members of the community, such as neighbours.

The advantage of such groups is that each member has a unique viewpoint of what it is like to live with such challenges and so individuals can feel better understood and have a mutual camaraderie. Because of their informal nature, such groups are not restricted by the professional boundaries of working relationships. Group members may also share ideas or  resources – for example, a group of parents with autistic children could take it in turns to drive all the children to a club.

These networks can provide a safe space to discuss real issues without judgment and offer emotional support when things are difficult.

Peer support can help individuals to learn from one another and provide a space for social inclusion. There are also opportunities to learn from peer modeling (observing and emulating peer role models).

In addition, informal networks can provide much-needed respite care – for example, so that a full-time carer can take a break.

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