A Short Course in Autreat Funding

by Jim Sinclair


The kinds of places people have been successful with in getting Autreat registration and/or travel funding in the past have been places like:

How to apply to these kinds of sources for funding depends on whether you're approaching an agency that is already required to provide services for you (public school, vocational rehabilitation, any service provider where you are already a client), or one that has no obligation to give you anything. If applying to a service provider where you're already a client, then you need to explain how coming to Autreat will help further the goals identified in your service plan. If applying to an agency that doesn't owe you anything, then you need to explain how giving you money for Autreat will fit into the goals the agency has set for itself (for example, the agency may itself have received grant money that it's required to use for supporting local people with disabilities with self-advocacy activities, or for supporting families to receive parent training, etc.). If applying to an employer or a college or university, then you need to explain how sending you to Autreat will help advance your education or your professional skills.

This is where those ANI certificates and, for professionals, Continuing Education Units can be really useful. If there's a certificate track made up of workshops that you think you'd want to go to anyway, then stating in your funding application that you intend to earn ___ certificate gives the prospective funding source some concrete outcome to justify the expenditure. If you're a professional, stating that you intend to earn Continuing Education Units for attending Autreat makes a stronger case for Autreat being accepted as a professional education activity.

You can try to combine funding from more than one source. If no one source can give you all the money you need, try putting together a package of two (or more) partial funding sources.

Be creative. See if there's anything you can offer to give back in return for the funding. One autistic person was able to get partial funding from a state family support agency by agreeing to come to one of the agency's meetings after Autreat, and give a talk about what he experienced at Autreat. An NT teenager received full funding from her local Autism Society to come and get the Babysitter Training, in return for being available to babysit for children of Autism Society members afterwards. (This worked out well for both the families and the babysitter, since the families got an autism-competent sitter for their kids, and the babysitter got a good source of paying customers.) Think about what you can offer: a talk for the agency, an article for its newsletter, some time helping out in its office, some direct service (babysitting, mentoring new parents) you can offer to its members... what are its goals as an organization, and what can you do to help it fulfill its goals, in return for its helping you to fulfill yours?

The best way to apply is probably to make a phone call first, just to find out if the organization would give any consideration to funding you. Some organizations have existing funds for self-advocacy, parent advocacy training, or professional development activities. In that case, you need to find out what the procedure is to apply for money. Other organizations don't have special funds for conference attendance, so your first question is whether they'd be at all open to considering it; and if they say they'd consider it, then your next question is to whom you should address your proposal. If you're applying to an agency where you are already a client or a member (school district, VR, respite care or res-hab agency, church or youth group, etc.), then you probably already have a caseworker or a group leader and know xyr address, so you can skip the phone call.

Once you've identified the relevant information and you know where to send your request, you're ready to write your request letter. This letter should be brief, simple, and to the point. If you're writing to a prospective funding source that doesn't already know you, introduce yourself first, in terms that identify how you are one of the source's intended "constituents": "I am a 20-year-old autistic person," "I am the parent of a six-year-old autistic child," "I am a resident of the city of ____ and I have/my child has a developmental disability," etc. Next, briefly (one or two sentences) tell them what Autreat is. It's probably a good idea to include a copy of the brochure. Now tell them why they should be interested in sending you to Autreat--where their interests and yours converge. If their group charter stresses self- or family advocacy, then your letter should stress your advocacy goals. If they're interested in skills training (personal or professional), then stress what skills or professional education you hope to gain at Autreat. If they're interested in service, then describe what personal benefits you/your family hope to derive from going to Autreat (contact with like-minded peers, mentors/role models for autistic youth, sense of community, etc.), and/or what services you'll be in a position to offer to others after going to Autreat (babysitting, peer support you will offer to other ACs or parents, working to raise community awareness about autism issues, and so on). If you're writing to your caseworker in an agency where you are a client, this is the place to talk about how Autreat will help you to work toward your program goals. Slant your letter toward the known interests of the recipient, but keep it factual and honest; don't invent things just to make it look good.

Include a personal budget showing how much money you need: include registration, travel, and, if needed, meals and lodging before and after Autreat. If you have any other resources, including your own money, to pay part of the cost, include that information to show that you are trying to do as much as you can for yourself. If you know (from your initial phone call) that the agency you're writing to has funding available to pay your full cost, then ask for the full amount you need. (But not more. Don't be greedy; leave some money for other people.) If the agency has smaller grants available, or if it doesn't usually provide this kind of grant at all and you're asking it to consider something new, then be sure to state that you are exploring other possible funding sources as well, and would be grateful for any help this source could give you, even if it's less than the full amount you need.

Next, you should indicate if there's anything you are willing to do to pay the agency back for its assistance. Finally, you tell them how to contact you (phone number, email) if they have any questions or require any more information. You can also include contact information for ANI if they want to contact me for information. Then you politely thank them for their consideration. And there's your funding request, all ready to mail or fax.

Last but not least, if you do get any funding, and particularly if you get it from any source that doesn't need to give you any money for anything, BE SURE TO SEND A THANK-YOU LETTER afterwards. Tell them a bit about what the experience meant to you and how it helped you. Leave them feeling good about having helped you. You may need to turn to this funding source again someday, or some other PWD or family may need to turn to them.

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