Support on the Internet
The Internet may be one of the greatest inventions of the twentieth century. Never before in human history can so many people be instantly in contact in any part of the world at any time of the day or night. The cost of the equipment is reasonable and the wealth of information you can find online is staggering. If you need it, or want it, or have to understand it, you can find it online. If you don't have a computer, your public library will have several you can use for short periods of time.
Many people who have not yet ventured onto the Internet are hesitant and sometimes a bit fearful. They worry they won't understand it and are concerned about the dangers the media presents. Others do not think any valid information can be found on websites and therefore have not investigated the available resources. Others are “technophobes” and do not do well with what they perceive to be advanced technology.
Rest assured the Internet is no more than a microcosm of the “real world.” It is no different from the rest of your world; it just reflects society. As in the real world, the Internet has good neighborhoods and bad neighborhoods. It has people you can trust and care for and it has people to be avoided. It has good Samaritans and it has thieves. As one child with autism proudly exclaimed as he began to grasp the concept of the computer and Internet, “There's a bunch of people in there!!”
Online Autism Communities
An autism community on the Internet is much like any other community. It has information, people, discussions, planned meetings, chat rooms, shopping, and many personal opinions from the community population, as well as medical professionals. You can find resources that can be trusted; just remember to pay attention to the source of the information.
One of the major advantages to autism communities on the Internet is the accessibility factor. They are literally open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. They are good for middle-of-the-night ranting and raving, and they are wonderful for people who live in isolated areas. If you have a work schedule that prohibits your attending a real-life support group, the Internet is your next best bet. And if you have a real-life support group, the knowledge you gain on the Internet can enhance your group meetings.
Appendix B at the end of this book has sources on the Internet that are valuable for anyone close to a child with autism. If you are new to the world of cyberspace, find a good book to help you get around on the web and find the resources you are searching for. Check out various communities and discover the volume of information that can help you as you learn about autism.
Other Online Communities
There are many communities on the Internet that you will find useful. Don't limit yourself to sites just related to autism. There are many other resources to help you take care of yourself and meet your own needs, and your children will benefit from it.
Communities for spirituality can be helpful for people who feel that the spiritual part of their lives must be functional for their lives to be complete. There are many sites for every faith known that are managed by people who believe as you do. Joining such a community will enrich your own life and, by extension, the lives of your children.
If you are a news junkie, the Internet is the place to be. All of the major news services can be found online as well as thousands of reliable news sources that may be brand new to you. Sometimes parents become so involved with a child's disability, they forget to stay in touch with the rest of the world. On the Internet, you can do that at your convenience, not on a television network's schedule.
If you have a need or are just looking for something for fun, if it is for business or entertainment, or if you are looking for something for yourself or for your children, you will be able to find a community for it online. Use search engines to find what you are looking for and just see where it might take you.
Mailing Lists and Newsletters
One primary method for communication used online by support groups is known as a mailing list. This is like a discussion that is spread out over a period of time. People subscribe to a mailing list and e-mails are generated from one person to the entire group. Any number of people can answer a given e-mail, and their response goes out to all members of the list. It is much like standing in the middle of a party and carrying on several conversations at once. People on mailing lists tend to become friends and sometimes even expand their friendships off the list, sometimes meeting in real life.
Newsletters are another source of information for parents of children who are disabled. Websites will often have a weekly, biweekly, or monthly newsletter that is e-mailed to subscribers at no charge. The benefit of these newsletters is that someone else is doing the research for you. All you have to do is visit the site where they have the information posted. This can be a great service but be sure that any newsletters you receive are sent by sources you can trust.
Easier Living on the Net
The Internet can make life much easier for a family that has a child with a disability. There are features that can help you take care of responsibilities without having to ever leave the house. Many banks are online and allow full banking to be done on their website. Credit cards can be paid online, as can most utilities. There are services through many banks that will pay all the bills you request and you don't need stamps, envelopes, or a parking place.
There are also many sources for shopping. This is especially convenient if you live in a small area that doesn't have all of the retail outlets you might need. Books, music, gifts, clothes, pets, supplies for anything, and jewelry are just some of the examples of what you can find. This can be convenient for holiday shopping; taking a child with autism to a mall is difficult and stressful. Now you can bring the mall to you.
Using the same common sense you use in your everyday life will prevent problems online. You wouldn't walk down a busy city street with a purse or wallet hanging open, so don't give your credit card information to a site that is not legitimate. Remember, there are people who are not reputable waiting to sell you the latest “cure” for autism, just as there are people on city streets selling things that are questionable. Just because it is legal doesn't mean it is a wise purchase. Just be practical and learn as much as you can about the environments you visit online, and it will be a positive and helpful experience.