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Autism Connections launches new program to improve social skills

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SYCAMORE TOWNSHIP, Ohio (WKRC) - April is Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month, and one new program is making sure local teens and adults living with autism feel comfortable in the social world.

The Autism Society of Greater Cincinnati has been helping kids, teens and adults with autism for more than 50 years. Just this year, the organization changed its name to Autism Connections, and the new program they just launched is proving that name to be true.

Social norms, like how to handle a conflict is something many of us do not talk about as we get older, but for teens and adults living with autism it may not be so straight forward.

"If someone makes you mad, is punching them the best way?" Autism Connections CEO Mary Helen Ricker asked a group of students. "Let's talk about how we keep our cool."

Autism Connections just launched its Peers Program, a 16-week evidence based social skills intervention training. Participants and social coaches discuss important social skills, like handling disagreements, dating pressures, how to make plans with friends, and when and how to say sorry.

Southgate, Kentucky's Elijah Muller says he has learned a lot during the course.

We kind of talk and learn about, talk about starting conversation and entering conversation or exiting, how to go on a date," Elijah said.

Elijah's mom, Jenny says it has always been a struggle to find social skills programming for Elijah, until now.

"It has been a real game changer I think for Elijah," Jenny said.

The program is for anyone with autism; from non-verbal to high-functioning who just need that social component.

"They don't have friends, maybe like Elijah said they want to meet a girl, but they don't know even how to approach that," Jenny said. "Something that is automatic for most of us is not automatic for most of our kids."

Richer says participants practice their skills in the classroom and out, and they are encouraged to make plans with their peers.

"We kind of fumble as a child and we learn those things, and in the world of autism what we find is it's much better if we break them down into rules and steps," Richer said.

Jenny says it has helped her find a support group amongst other parents, and Elijah has enjoyed it so much, he wants others living with autism to join too.

"They should join and try to get to know how to have autism and get to do stuff," Elijah said.

The 16-week sessions are held at Linden Grove School in Sycamore Township. The classes are held Monday evenings, and the next session begins on May 8. The program is $500 dollars/teen or adult.

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You can learn more about the program and register, here.

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