Hello, Internet! Cole here. Sorry I haven’t uploaded anything for a while; I’ve been having a rough time with junior year this fall, and I just haven’t been able to integrate this column into my schedule very well. I seem to be approaching recovery, though, so hopefully I should be able to create more content in the near future.
In any case, this month I want to write about a social group I’ve been frequenting. This group is called PEERS, and it teaches adolescents and adults how to interact with, well, their peers. I’ve entered it alongside the SpectrumWise program, which helps people with ASD transition into college. Ms. Barbara Simeroth, a parent and teacher with experience with autistic youths, leads both of the above groups with the help of “coaches” – young men J. and X. and woman L.. My fellow classmates include P., a close friend from school and robotics; M., a Star Wars fan; and C., a connoisseur of certain interesting parts of Youtube.
My most recent meeting took place after Deep Run’s homecoming parade. After representing my team in the march from the YMCA to the school, I hurriedly said goodbye and rushed towards Mom’s car. I hopped in and ate dinner, and we sped to the meeting location… only to discover it wasn’t open yet. The person who normally opened the building for our use hadn’t arrived, and Ms. Simeroth and the others were still waiting outside. After about 15 minutes of impatience, the door finally opened and we entered.
We congregated in a back room with light cyan walls and a portrait of a smiling Asian woman, as we always did. Ms. Simeroth recapped the subjects we’d covered in previous sessions – starting and ending conversations, joining group conversations, phone communication – and then introduced a new topic: showing a romantic interest properly. One in the group winced at the idea – he wasn’t keen on getting a girlfriend at the time – but Ms. Simeroth emphasized that the skill was for if he ever did want to begin a relationship. To introduce the topic, J. and L. performed a short sketch in which J. demonstrated how not to tell someone that one likes them. This skit, too, made one of the members uncomfortable; he didn’t seem to like the “how not to do X” sort of performances.
Ms. Simeroth lined a few key strategies for certain aspects of dating. For instance, if we wanted to figure out if someone had a boyfriend, we would start with a frame conversation and introduce the subject in context; if he/she responded in the negative, we could seek a date, but otherwise we would continue talking so as not to seem desperate. Afterwards, we practiced those methods via directed acting.
Finally, the adult mentors (mentors are usually parents) entered the room and Ms. Simeroth recapped the day’s lessons. She would normally then advise us to practice our learned skills in everyday life, but as dating is not easy to practice, she simply told us to keep practicing talking to groups of people. We said our goodbyes, entered our cars and returned home.
Besides Dating Etiquette, some of the other topics covered included Planning Get-togethers, Entering and Exiting Conversations gracefully, Appropriate Use of Humor, Electronic Communication, Finding a Source of Friends, Trading Information and Maintaining Conversations, and more. There is ‘homework’ every week where we have to call one of the group members or coaches and have a conversation following certain guidelines, or to practice what we have learned in real life social situations with the help of our adult mentor.
As of the time of this writing, I’ve attended 10 of 16 sessions of the class and am currently having a good time with it. Courses teaching social skills are somewhat difficult to come by, and I’m glad I have this one! I’d highly recommend it for anyone on the autism spectrum who would like to brush up their social skills before college. In addition to this PEERS program, there is the aforementioned SpectrumWise program. With SpectrumWise you can work one-on-one with Ms. Simeroth to prepare for the college application and essay process, transition to college and she helps you choose a college where you will receive on-going ASD support from the school. In addition to this you also learn ‘real life’ skills you will need when you are living on your own. These include everyday things that will make you more independent; like taking your medicines independently, scheduling your own appointments, maintaining your own calendar, etc. Life skills everyone needs! The website is: http://spectrum-wise.com/ and the phone number is 804.554.6617. Thanks for reading, Internet, and I’ll be seeing ya’!
Cole is our young adult monthly contributor. He is an incredible asset to all of us. He is in the IT program in Henrico County, has Asperger’s and is also an animal whisperer.