When We started providing services in January of this year we really weren’t sure which aspect of our services would be most appealing to those in the Greater Cleveland area. APC had quickly found out that clients and families have really latched onto our service of developing friendships for adults diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
The clients we serve seem to be genuinely happy with the services provided to them. They are in a much better place in terms of their ability to develop friendships than they were prior to working with us. However, today we don’t want to talk about what our clients have learned, but what we have learned going out into the community with them.
We have learned Cleveland is a pretty cool place. If it wasn’t for our clients we may never have been to many of the places that they were interested in visiting.
We have learned that when you open a door you never know what is on the other side. Sometimes the community outings that we go on with our clients arent as beneficial as we would like. Then there are other times they are more beneficial than we could ever imagine. Take for example one of our clients who has a passion for photography. He specifically likes taking pictures of animals. Therefore, we ventured to North Chagrin Reservation one day with his camera. He took some beautiful pictures of animals at the Reservation. While we were there it started to rain. Therefore, we ran into the nature center at North Chagrin Reservation for cover. While in the nature center we saw a flyer for a photo contest. Our client at first was hesitant to enter the contest. However, warmed up to the idea and in the past week submitted two photographs( as a result of entering the contest we have observed an increase in his self-esteem). If his photos are selected, they will be displayed at the North Chagrin Nature Center the weekend of October 12th. If we hadn’t taken into account our clients passion and used that to find opportunities to pursue that in the community this door would have never been opened.
We have learned Meetup.com is a valuable resource. This website is the worlds largest online network of local groups. There are groups based on so many different interests. This website works very well for those on the Autism Spectrum for many reasons. One of the reasons this website works so well is that the groups take into account whatever their special interests or passions are. If you like computers, there are computer groups. If you like board games, there are board game groups. Another very positive thing about meetup is that these groups quite frequently are recurring groups. What we have observed is that our clients initially are very quiet in these groups. However, after the third or fourth month in a row they start to come out of their shell so to speak and are much more willing to talk to the other group members. Our clients typically enter the group with low self-esteem particularly in relation to interacting with their peers. However, the more they see the same people the more comfortable they get. The gap between our clients and their typical peers declines. It doesn’t fade away, but it declines and makes it easier for us as coaches to work with our clients in developing more appropriate social skills for them.
We have learned to improve our assessment process through community outings. When we first started working with clients on developing friendships we did a lot of research in regards to community assessment of our clients. This was a frustrating process because we couldn’t find one assessment that we thought was of the quality we were looking for to help our clients. Therefore, we took bits and pieces of various assessments and created our own thirty skill checklist for developing friendships in the community. Since then we have added twenty three additional skills to this checklist. The skills that have since been added have been brought about by going into the community with our clients. We have seen skill deficits that were not present in all of the assessments. We have seen a few of our clients hesitant to walk into new restaurants or stores. This was not in any of the assessments. We have clients that were competitive in non-competitive situations. In regards to one client we joined a running group. He likes running and it gave him a chance to social with his peers. Therefore, we thought it was a great match. However, we didn’t take into account that while we were running as a group he would just take off running on his own and be about 25-50 yards ahead of us during the time we were running. When we asked him at the end why he did that he said “I’m not good at too many things other than running. When I am involved with things I’m good at I get way too competitive. I need to work on that”. We responded “No you don’t, we need to work on that.” We are working on that and that is now one of the twenty three additional skills that have added to our assessment.
There are many other things we have learned about going into the community, but we will save that for another time.