Bonnie Malkin Gillman

Ms. Gillman is the Founder and Executive Director of the Grandparent Autism Network.

How Can Grandparents Organize a Group and Increase Support for Autism?

I receive inquiries every week from grandparents residing in other states and countries about how to establish a chapter of GAN in their local community.  GAN is an all-volunteer organization with limited resources to expand beyond the 34 cities that comprise Orange County, California. Our two websites, www.ganinfo.org  and www.faninfo.org  provide resources to people from more than 80 countries.  We share information about our programs, projects and events and we invite grandparents in other areas to replicate them. Our name and logo, however, are copyrighted and cannot be copied.

Establish A Support Group

Here are a few suggestions that should help you develop a grandparent autism support group in your community:

  • If you live in the same community as your children, ask them to identify other families with local grandparents that you can contact.
  • Join local chapters of national autism organizations, i.e. participate in your community’s Autism Speaks’ Walk Now to meet other families.
  • Contact hospitals, pediatricians, neurologists, autism service providers and special education teachers to determine if they know other grandparents.  It is best to provide them with a simple, one page flyer with your  contact information for them to distribute.
  • Request a speaker from a local university or autism center to make a presentation on a topic of interest to grandparents.  Avoid engaging self-promoting speakers or endorsements for commercial products.  See “Presentations Past” on this website for some ideas.
  • Schedule a meeting in your home or in a local cost-free facility.  Churches, synagogues, libraries, senior centers, non-profit organizations and school districts will be most likely to provide meeting sites for your group.

Here are additional ways you can advocate and expand support for the autism community:

Advocate for Autism

  • Grandparents can help to eliminate social stigmas associated with autism.   Disclosing that you have a family member with autism typically encourages other people to ask questions, learn more and increase their support for autism causes.
  • Invite family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers and community philanthropic organizations (i.e. Rotary,  Women’s Clubs, Business Networking Groups, etc.) to support advocacy and fund raising efforts for autism causes.
  • Advocate for autism legislation and funding for research, insurance, special education, employment opportunities, housing, transportation, and services that will increase the quality of life for those with autism. Help to develop needed lifetime supports and encourage acceptance and social integration for people with autism in your community.