Mrs Brandis voluntarily organised events, researched grant applications, circulated information, notified members of upcoming workshops or seminars, and arranged annual respite weekends.
Last month, she was awarded the Town of Cambridge Volunteer of the Year and ConnectGroups’ Champion Award. ConnectGroups executive officer Antonella Segre said Mrs Brandis was a worthy recipient.
‘Heidi has worked tirelessly to support members of the group, balancing her time between her activities and being a mother to her own autistic child,’ Ms Segre said.
‘It’s tough enough being a parent without facing the challenges that these parents face.’
Mrs Brandis said the coffee meetings were the first time she met another parent who understood the struggles of raising an autistic child.
‘It is very difficult to be resourceful when your child has been diagnosed,’ she said. ‘You are either in shock, confused or feeling depressed.
‘I received no information with my daughter, it was literally, ‘your child has autism, bye’.
‘There was financial support and services we could have applied for but we didn’t know we had the option. You cannot Google something if you do not know what you’re looking for.’
Mrs Brandis is writing an Autism Family Survival Kit to be published as a free brochure and PDF for parents to read after initial diagnosis.
‘It would be fantastic if no family again experienced the stress and hurt that we and thousands of other families had to go through,’ she said.
‘The focus of all medical professionals needs to be on supporting families from the beginning.’