For the past 10 years, the Adults with Asperger’s support group has met monthly to build community and connection. Each month, the group meets at a local restaurant or a member’s home to engage with each other, meet new friends, and explore their community. Throughout the group’s existence, they have created a space that provides networking, friendship, community with each other, and a comfortable opportunity to explore area restaurants and neighborhoods.
Advocating for What Was Needed
When the group began, it first met at the St. Louis Arc’s main offices and meetings were organized with activities and icebreakers. People came, but the group quickly advocated for what they needed. Instead of activities with rules and expectations, they wanted a space where they could be comfortable, be themselves, and make friends. And what better way to do that than over a meal?
Sharon Spurlock, Senior Director of Family Services, coordinates the group for the Arc. She shared, “the foundation of this group is having an open space where they can be together and share a common interest. My role is less organizing activities and more connecting people I know have things in common.” Easing the pressure on newer members is something that Sharon is able to offer the group. “If I know someone who likes WWII history, I can connect them with someone else who likes that topic and they sit together. I am also able to notice when someone sits next to someone who they don’t connect with,” she says, “and can encourage them to get up and move around. My job is more about solving problems and facilitating barriers that would interfere with relationships.”
Connecting with Community
For the individuals who attend, the monthly dinners provide an opportunity to explore their community and network with others. Brian has been meeting with the group since 2014. He shared, “I wanted to meet other neurodiverse people within my age range, and to expand my circle of friends. [This group] allowed me to not limit myself to hanging out with only a narrow circle of friends.”
In addition to making friends, the group provides an opportunity to explore restaurants and different parts of St. Louis. Bobby, who has been with the group for the past eight years, said, “gathering with everyone and eating, making friends, and going places, gives me something to look forward to.”
Comfort and Opportunity
Sharon, Bobby, and Brian all agreed that the group pushes people to try new things but within their own time and comfort zone. “Sometimes people come and don’t talk to others, but they come month after month,” said Sharon. “I’ve noticed, though, that over time they find their place and open up when they are ready.”
For one member, their parent has encouraged them to host people at their home for some time. Now, with the comfort of this group, they will host a pool party at their home for the group next month. While hosting might cause some anxiety, this group has brought a level of security for them to finally step outside of their comfort zone and serve as a host.
Brian explained the group best, “I think that networking is always a positive and helpful idea. Not only in the context of neurodiverse individuals finding community or regular activities, but particularly because social isolation or limiting the type of people you interact with can keep us from enjoying more of life’s experiences.”
While the group offers a safe space for neurodiverse individuals to connect, everyone is welcome to the monthly gatherings. Search for open monthly outings are on Meetup, or contact Beth Moeller, Director of Community Living, to learn more.