We ask all who engage with SWAN through forums or meet-ups to read and adhere to these Conditions of Engagement. Any of SWAN’s voluntary facilitators, advisors and Board of Trustees must sign them.
SWAN aims to:
1 improve the lives of autistic girls and women.
2 provide peer-support for autistic women and girls.
3 actively seek and widely promote a greater understanding of the lived experiences of autistic girls and women by:
i) challenging misconceptions and ignorance of the existence, prevalence and presentation of autism in females, through research, practice and the collecting and sharing of knowledge of lived experiences
ii) working to dismantle unhelpful stereotypes and misunderstandings
iii) forming and developing working partnerships with professions, agencies and organisations
SWAN aims to build routes to practical support for autistic women and girls throughout the lifespan through peer-support, research and the sharing of knowledge and information. SWAN offers signposting for potential solutions and support to individuals, families and professionals.
We work for social movement through individual and collective self-knowledge, confidence and personal growth. We model a capacity- rather than deficit- led approach. Our model enables pro-active self-care and empowerment to the building of capacity and citizenship by focusing on identifying strengths as well as challenges, increasing confidence and maximising individual potential.
We work for social and legislative change through our presence at every opportunity for representation eg Cross Party Group for Autism, Independent Review of the Mental Health Act, Scottish Government Strategy reviews.
The core activities of SWAN have, since its foundation in 2012, been designed, led and developed on a voluntary basis by a core group of autistic women who have established a network for autistic women in Scotland. SWAN volunteers are autistic women who give their time and of themselves to support other autistic women and to promote increased understanding and acceptance within the wider community.
SWAN aims to include all autistic individuals who identify as female or who wish to share lived experiences as Assigned Female at Birth, regardless of age, ability or disability, sexuality, race, religion or belief. Our gender inclusion policy is constantly under review to take account of changing understanding, language, preferences. We are only able currently to offer specific activities and resources to those who are 15 years of age or older and our limited resources mean we cannot provide these to individuals with some specific support needs. We offer our solidarity and support in other ways, to those who cannot access our local peer-support, through involvement with other organisations, peer-led groups, taking part in consultations, research and initiatives. We run an online, ‘secret’ conversation forum which allows access to peer-support for many who can’t or prefer not to attend local meet-ups.
Our peer-support is offered to women who have received a diagnosis of autism, including those with diagnoses of Asperger’s, Atypical Autism, Autistic Spectrum Disorder, Autistic Spectrum Condition, and others within the autism umbrella, women who are seeking diagnosis, and those who identify with the characteristics, challenges and gifts involved in being autistic. We recognise that for any number of reasons pursuing a diagnosis may not be a viable option at the current time and a substantial proportion of the individuals who come to our events and meet-ups are self-identified.
Peer support meet-up groups
These are autistic-only spaces
Meet-ups are run mostly for women aged 18 + and 15-17 years.
Respect and Inclusion
We offer a safe space where there is understanding and acceptance. We treat everyone that comes to SWAN with respect, compassion and a willingness to listen nonjudgementally, to acknowledge each and every individual’s personal story. We require, in return, respect from those who participate in our meet-ups and other activities towards facilitators, SWAN as an organisation and each other.
We are non-partisan and accepting of people’s differences. We understand that individuals will come to SWAN with a wide spectrum of experiences and different levels of understanding of what it is to be autistic and insight into or acceptance of their own autistic identity.
Participation. All attendees have the right to contribute whilst attending SWAN events but there is no compulsion or obligation to participate in any specific discussion. Individuals are asked to respect others’ rights to communicate and to be heard.
Respect. Pejorative personal comments targeting other members are not acceptable, either at meetings, on our online facilities, or other online forums, or by email. Any disagreements between members must be resolved respectfully and through the channels offered, being firstly, through the Facilitator (in the case of the online forum, through the forum Admin), then through the Facilitators’ Forum, then the Board of Trustees.
* We reserve the right to include or exclude any individuals from participation in our activities and forums at the discretion of the Facilitators Forum, with the Board of Trustees as line management.
The meet-ups function only through trust. We appreciate the need to maintain the confidentiality of our volunteers and participants, particularly with regard to the sensitive nature of some of the subject matters involved. We therefore require that all involved keep all matters discussed within the group wholly confidential. We also require that participants’ identities are not disclosed outwith the groups and forums. Any breach of this requirement will be addressed by automatic exclusion from any of our activities or forums.
Safeguarding and Protection
Any concerns as to safeguarding or protection or any other relevant issue should be raised initially with the group facilitators who will then take any concerns to the SWAN Facilitators Forum and from there to the SWAN Board of Trustees.
A Learning Organisation
We are an iterative, reflexive entity, going through many changes and developments in response to what we are told is needed by those who engage with us and in response to our learning as an organisation. This is only made possible through engagement and sharing. Facilitators are integral to this; they listen, note and share their learning with the Facilitators’ Forum. This includes any observed or explicitly asked for, need for change or additional activities.
We are a ground-breaking organisation, built on the commitment, passion and sheer hard work of many individual autistic women volunteers over a period of years. We are only as effective as we are because we support each other and that includes the volunteer facilitators as well as the mostly autistic Board of Governors. We cannot demand approval or loyalty from everyone who comes to our meet-ups or takes part in our forums but we can articulate the importance of peer-support as a multi-faceted thing, it reflects in many directions. We hope for loyalty from our participants in meet-ups and online forums and an understanding that we, collectively, have a shared purpose. Loyalty, integrity, understanding of that shared purpose and the ability to work within that framework, are required to be a SWAN Facilitator, see below.
Facilitators are autistic women.
Roles and requirements
All groups should aim to have a minimum of 2 facilitators per meet-up.
- organise meet-up venues; book if necessary;
- consider factors such as enough space to accommodate whoever arrives to take part ensuring no one is ‘left out’ or sitting on a periphery or in a corner;
- ensure the venue is discrete enough to protect needs for privacy/anonymity;
- ensure venues, dates and times are disseminated through appropriate channels in good time, staying mindful of the need for anonymity and safety;
- quietly/discreetly ensure participants are comfortable, feel accepted and included;
- meet-ups should be fun as well as serious;
- be aware of and able to act on safeguarding and child protection protocols;
- be aware of and able to act on mental health crises
Facilitators are not required to ‘lead’ all conversations or create a ‘formal’ event at meet-up. More structured conversations or events may be specifically requested by a consensus of the group participants.
Meet-ups are autistic-only space. Sometimes participants require a parent or carer to attend with them. It is our policy to accommodate this till the individual is settled within the group and then for the non-autistic person to move to sit elsewhere or go off and come back again at the end of the meet-up or whenever it has been agreed.
Facilitators are required to:
- ensure a group culture of acceptance, inclusion, respect, mutual support and learning;
- listen to all participants in the meet-ups and respond as appropriate and necessary to requests, comments or complaints;
- use the appropriate channels as described within this paper for addressing any concerns, complaints or other issues in the first instance;
- take part in the Facilitators Forum and to share in the building and maintenance of SWAN ‘Best Practice’ throughout the organisation;
- keep SWAN business and the content of all discussions within meet-ups and through the Facilitators Forum strictly confidential;
- Undertake a PVG check via SWAN;
- adhere to the Conditions of Engagement as outlined within this paper.
Download the Conditions of Engagement as a pdf for signing