Autism is a lifelong communication disability that impacts language, social interaction, and access to life opportunities. During an individual's school years, educational settings meet many needs beyond academic instruction, and they serve as a vehicle to access supported employment opportunities, social activities, and caring friends. However, too often graduation signals the end of exposure to learning, vocational opportunities, access to friends, social opportunities, and life-enriching diversions. This is unfortunate, because the needs of individuals with autism do not end, and people with autism never stop learning. Without the skills or supports to propel themselves to a greater level of success, adults with autism experience depression, unemployment, and isolation at levels far above those of their neuro-typical peers.
Everyone benefits from the opportunity to spend time in activities that bring joy. We nurture ourselves by balancing our lives; we find happiness and fulfillment with a steady balance of work, growth, and play. Many individuals with ASD simply do not have the opportunity or means to access these activities and to participate in routines that neuro-typical individuals may take for granted. Every adult also wishes for some degree of autonomy. Though developmental disabilities limit their life choices, adults with autism also desire time away from their parents. Parents need and desire time away from their adult children as well.
The needs of our community are tremendous. Georgia Autism Skills for Life is a first step. It will not change the world, answer all of our families' concerns, or meet every need of our community. We can, however, commit to being there for one another three nights a month. Make no mistake, that is significant.
About Georgia Autism Skills for Life
Georgia Autism Skills for Life is a program developed for young adults with autism spectrum disorders by educators who have spent their lives serving individuals with autism and their families. GA-ASFL works to ensure that one night a week, three weeks a month, our adults will have an opportunity to participate in pleasurable, structured activities with a consistent group of knowledgeable and supportive friends. Within the comfort and support of group meetings, individuals work to acquire new skills.
Members are adult individuals with autism spectrum disorders who experience disability based on roadblocks that limit their successful access to typical life-enriching opportunities. Members agree to attend each session and participate to the best of their abilities in all group activities. Each member works to learn new skills that will improve their access to work, relationships, and social activities. Participants consistently demonstrate increased cooperation, positive coping strategies, positive social behaviors, and decreased aggression, isolation, and depressed behaviors.
Mentors are individuals from all walks of life. These volunteers are adults who may be from the business world, college students, teachers, and therapists. They serve as peers to our members with the goal of modeling positive social behaviors. Mentors offer more than kindness; they are trained in strategies that improve their ability to interact with an individual with a communication disorder. Mentors receive ongoing training to support the implementation of the program, and they operate under the following roles: to model and teach, to respect the dignity of each of our members, to support with friendship, and to demonstrate acceptance and caring.
Our chapter leaders are highly educated professionals from a large variety of backgrounds that include professional and personal experience with ASD. Their responsibilities include planning each month's activities, supporting current mentors, and managing all group communication. Most importantly, chapter leaders continually assess the progress and goals of our members and maintain communication with families.