We arrived in Edinburgh from 6 different parts of Scotland all united by our pride in our identites as autistic women and swans. We represent the Scottish Women’s Autism Network (SWAN), each of us involved in varied capacities but all mutually invested in the belief that autistic women are best placed to support other Autistic women through peer support, education and friendship. This gathering of swans had been prompted by a very positive and exciting happening.
SWAN had been nominated for the Scottish Social Care Awards 2018 (SSSA18) “Head above the Parapet” category and we had made it through to the finals which were taking place in the historic venue Mansfield Traquair. We arrived in good time and settled into our seats to enjoy a taste of the array of projects and individuals who had been also nominated as SSSA finalists. The company we found ourselves in was rich in innovation and there was a common theme of authentic human connection across each of the finalist. As a small, recently constituted charity entirely run by volunteers we felt delighted to be noticed and included in such impressive company.
As our short film played I felt incredibly proud of SWAN and hoped that those watching would recognise that what we are doing is unique, valuable and much needed within the landscape of autism support services. I felt delighted to have our project showcased at such a prestigious event among a collective of professionals and volunteers who shared our mission to improve lives, particularly the lives of those from marginalised groups. Our film felt warm and real and captured the nuances of why it is so important to support our community of autistic females with sensitivity and an approach informed from the lived autistic experience. I thought we had achieved our goal by becoming finalists at that point by increasing our visability and sharing our vision & values.
When the winner was announced as “Scottish Women’s Autism Network” I felt stunned. I turned to look at SWAN’s founder and chairperson, Catriona and my stunned expression was mirrored back to me. I looked across at my co-swans Yvonne, Lynda, Emma & Rachel and found matching expressions of shock and disbelief. It took us all a few seconds to realise that we were not only finalists but winners of the “Head above the Parapet” category. In what felt like a flutter of feathers we gathered ourselves and somehow navigated the applauding audience to the front where we were warmly congratulated and presented with our award. We were then invited to participate in a brief interview where we managed to convey our delight in winning and our belief in the importance in what we are doing.
It was simply incredible to win this award and so encouraging to realise that the work that SWAN do in providing a strength based peer support network for autistic women & girls is becoming recognised and valued by the wider community. We feel the value of what we do in every individual interaction and know that our approach is bridging a huge gap in existing services. SWAN walk alongside autistic women and girls in a way that empowers and facilitates well being & personal growth. We left the award ceremony walking on air. It feels as if SWAN may well have taken flight!