Updated: Jan 13, 2018
By Carol Grigg, Co-founder and President (2005)
The vision to start a support group began in the year 2000 when my own journey into awareness of Asperger's Syndrome began.
I first heard the words "Asperger's Syndrome" in July of that year, and the description seemed to explain the behaviours my own husband was manifesting. I had no idea it was related to autism, I didn't know what autism really was anyway, and I had no idea to contact the local Autism Association for information or a referral.
The urgency to find information and advice quickly consumed me and I learned to use the internet. I launched several distressed emails to several websites, one of these being in the UK, and the response came back to contact my local Autism Association.
Another website I contacted was the Asperger Syndrome Australian Information Centre run by a wonderful guy named Mitch in South Australia. Mitch conversed with me by email and provided some life-saving answers and a priceless human connection for me.
Mitch continues to be a source of encouragement, support and inspiration for me, and he is very supportive of our support group, listing it on his website to help partners find us. I believe it was also during this time that I was made aware of the FAAAS website where much helpful information is provided.
The NSW Autism Association, now known as Autism Spectrum Australia (ASPECT), was able to provide me with the names of several psychologists in Sydney. In October 2000 we consulted with one of these psychologists, and a very wonderful and supportive connection began and has continued.
It was through this psychologist that I was given the opportunity early in 2001 to meet Lyn, whose husband also had Asperger's Syndrome. Lyn and I became firm friends instantly and experienced together those first amazing feelings of validation and relief that come when you finally find someone who knows what you're talking about, who lives through the same experiences and you don't have to try and describe the context or behaviours or suffer the knock-back or minimisation or skepticism or rejection.
Gradually, through an online mailing list and by leaving contact details with the Autism Association, we began to build up a small group which, by early 2003, had grown to around six. We would meet from time to time and have coffee or picnics and found these times to be like a life-line for us.
In May 2003, the Autism Association held a Partner Forum at Macquarie University during Autism Awareness Week. There were about 24 partners in attendance at this forum and we all came away excited and inspired by having been together and shared our experiences.
It was at this forum that Anthony Warren of the Autism Association allowed me to announce and launch GRASP, a support group for spouses and partners (and ex-partners). We commenced meetings on 7 June 2003 at Parramatta RSL Club, who allowed us to use the Lachlan Room free of charge.
In January 2006, needing a new venue due to larger numbers, we moved our meetings to the College of Nursing at Burwood (NSW).
The idea of a support group was born from those first feelings of desperation at not being able to find someone nearby who understood and could help. A passion began to grow within me to do something to help others, to somehow be or provide a connecting point for others at the beginning of their journeys.
Since our commencement in 2003 the attendance at our meetings has grown from five or six to an average of 25. Our contact list has grown to around 500. We have regular contributions from a number of excellent Sydney-based psychologists.
Incorporating as an Association had been a dream for a long time, but as a group, and also as individuals, I don't believe we were ready for that step until 2005. There are many things that are possible to achieve from the springboard of being a legal entity.
Our priority, as always, is to continue to provide information and support to those who enquire or attend our meetings, but other priorities involve the need to increase awareness within our general community and urgently among those in the help professions, particularly counsellors, psychologists, doctors and psychiatrists who are often the portal through which many couples and partners seek help and Asperger's Syndrome is not being recognised or identified.