Associação Portuguesa Voz do Autista
Due to social stigma, autistic children are deprived of inclusive social environments. Families frequently feel isolated. Our innovative project aims to create a sensory play community center where families can be together in a meaningful social space, develop a sense of community and become active in educating about autism and advocating for rights. Offering children a truly inclusive place will empower families to organize educational and social events, open to the larger community.
Porto, North Portugal
In our region autism faces strong social stigma as people are quite uninformed about this neurodevelopmental condition. Outdated harmful ideas (like autistics having no interest in social interaction or empathy) are still dominant. Autistic children are often deprived of fundamental rights such as safe and friendly social environments, respectful learning strategies and self-advocacy encouragement. At the same time, autistic voices are emerging and catching up with an ongoing international debate about recognizing autistics as experts on their own condition. However families of autistic children, in our region, are not engaging the debate as a cohesive group and there isn´t any social space where they can meet each other and actually share experiences and define common goals.
For the 10-15 children participating, offering them a place to play where their sensory needs and interests are addressed, and a community where their communication styles are accepted and self-advocacy skills are nurtured. For their families, that will have support to organize as a civic group. Also for the larger community they are involved in (family, friends, teachers, therapists, etc.), as they will be invited in, to learn, discuss and share valuable social experiences. We hope to get to a larger group of people, by investing in our visibility, to set an example of how creating opportunities for autistic and non autistic people to be together can promote a shift in mentalities. So, we wish we will have some degree of impact in the lives of much more autistic children.
1) Divulgate an online call for families to participate: explanation of the project functioning and objectives. An online meeting will be held to answer questions.
2) Prepare the space - our beehive. We will ude an exterior room and the outdoor space of our facilities in central Maia, Porto. (Minor repairs and decoration, installation of sensory indoor and outdoor equipment like swings, slides, crash mats, etc. for kids to play with opportunities for self regulation).
3) Regular informal social meetings (families are always welcome to bring guests): group dynamics and games, visualization of documentaries, debates, and other activities; 4) More structured meetings will be held monthly to organize the open events: participants will take the lead and organize themselves in working groups;
5) An online platform for participants to communicate about the ongoing organization will be created as well as an updated social media platform that will be managed by the participants;
6) Participant families will organize at least 5 educative events open to the larger community. These will be announced through social media but institutional actors considered relevant by the families will be individually invited. Experts will be invited and discussion will be encouraged.
Creating a solid community around the children involved will contribute to their self-esteem and well-being. We hope these children will fell included and accepted. For their families, we expect that, in the end of the project, they have had a chance to improve their advocacy skills and to become a cohesive active civic group. In the larger community we hope we can effectively change how people understand autism and relate to autistic people. We also expect to inspire others to join together and be active in autism education. beeTogether is a small scale project that we believe will have profound and long reaching impact.
We believe families are children’s voices in society. Autistic children have less access than other children to self-advocacy. This is due to their different communication styles and sensory needs but also to outdated ideas and practices that deny these kids agency. Supporting their families in the process of speaking up on their behalf will be a learning experience of civic participation for the children as well. Autistic children families do not normally have access to community building actions. We will be giving these families opportunities to engage with the larger community as a cohesive and empowered group, greatly increasing their chances of changing mentalities so that their kids can themselves fell empowered and understand they have a word about their rights.
As an organization devoted to improve educational and pedagogic practices and models, we witness and share the frustration of many families that do not find adequate support for their children in institutional settings, especially schools. We do have some autistic children in our organization so we understand their struggle to have social, pedagogic and sensory accommodations. We work with passionate educators and volunteers who really enjoy to work together with families to improve autistic children well being and inclusion. Personally, I am an anthropologist and mother of two autistic kids. I strong believe families must engage in educating society about autism and advocate for autistic´s rights. We must teach our children that they are entitled to a voice, even if they do not speak.
Funding requested from Civic Europe
Personnel costs (project management and monitors): 17 000
Space improvement (furniture, decoration) and sensory equipment: 10 000
Office expenses and equipment (computer, mobile phone, printer, projector): 3000
Invitation of experts (remuneration, travel and accommodation): 3000
Events expenses (drinks, snacks, activities material): 2000
We would love to hear about other projects dedicated to disabled people rights and to get advice about creative ways to develop group dynamics promoting active citizenship. All feedback is very much welcomed.