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Students come to CIP with the expectation that they will build social and executive skills in many different environments in order to become as independent as possible. In order to build these skills, the students are challenged to step out of their comfort zone and do the things that may be difficult, time consuming or boring. Through didactic, interactive, multisensory classroom instruction, the student are taught these skills in modules such as Relationship Development, Theory of Mind and Reframing.
What is Reframing?
A frame can refer to a belief – which often can amount to a limiting view of the world. Similar to a window frame, a smaller frame may mean you will be able to see less of the outside. Reframing seeks to convert one’s thoughts and feelings surrounding a negative situation into a positive pathway for change. Reframing identifies the good intention in a negative behavior and readjusts the process to one by which that behavior can be made more successful. It is a concept that helps students connect the dots between behavior and emotion.
Reframing can boost self-confidence for an individual on the spectrum to realize that they are not defective or disordered but have many assets that neurotypical individuals do not. Understanding this helps to uncover the impact of learning differences and redefine past experiences and relationships.
The CIP Reframing group discusses values and beliefs more in depth by participating in a self-assessment, discussions, and activities.
When the students begin at CIP they are asked to describe what their independent life might look like in 10 years. This is how the student’s special interests can motivate them to become productive independent members of society. For example, one student, Isabella, stated that she would like to be living in a house with a husband and children. Staff then asked her how she would fund this goal. She said that she has always been interested in Forensic science, so she might want to get a career in that field in order to make money. From there she had to figure out what is required for her to work in that field. She determined that she would need a degree, job experience, references and recommendations.
At CIP, the students work with all of the departments to meet these goals by creating daily goals that would lead them there. Isabella takes Forensic classes at the college where she has the opportunity to socialize with likeminded individuals. However, she may not follow through with socializing because she is not sure how to start. Through discussion, Isabella recognizes that she must first talk to people in order to build relationships with them. Once shared with CIP staff, remembering the instruction she received in her CIP modules, she now can work with Social Mentors to script, role play in social skills groups and then eventually plan to use the script with a specific classmate on a particular day. This is only after she has determined that she is feeling well balanced.
The students are taught that it is important to be physically and emotionally balanced in order to perform at their optimum level. For example, it is more difficult to maintain emotional control and attention when Isabella is hungry. So before executing her goals, the she must make sure that her basic needs are met. She does so through planning with staff using a schedule, calendar, and reminders on her phone.
I’ve figured out how to talk to people, now can I date?
For most people, dating is both an exciting and stressful experience. Imagine how much more difficult it becomes for those who have challenges understanding social situations – social cues, body language, perspective taking, etc. This can make dating for the first time an especially worrisome and stressful occasion.
Many of the students we work with have often expressed their lack of experience as the primary roadblock to them pursuing a relationship. They have the desire to have a girl or boyfriend, but do not possess the appropriate skills to navigate through complicated social situations.
It is in this area that young adults on the Autism Spectrum and with Learning Differences need guidance and advice from their families and professional support team to learn and recognize the various factors that go into dating and maintaining healthy relationships.
Here are some important questions to ask your student when discussing dating and relationships for the first time:
– What qualities are they looking for in a significant other?
– What is important to them for the relationship – beliefs, values, etc.?
– How does the other person make them feel?
– What are their dating fears?
Students who don’t have concrete answers for these questions may have to do a little more work to explore this fully. For example, beliefs and values are discussed prior to the CIP Relationship Development Class where it builds off the work students do in the CIP Reframing group.
Other Dating Options
It can be easier for students with ASD/LD to meet someone online compared to face to face. There is less pressure, less risk of rejection and have more time to formulate your thoughts and responses. You can meet people with similar interests, along with many other traits you are looking for in a mate. The major concern is safety as you don’t know who you are actually talking to online. Dates should be held in a public place where family and friends know where you are. Online dating website, EHarmony, offers online dating safety tips for women.
Personal Experience & Tips
One of our CIP Amherst students shared his personal dating experience with us. He spoke about his fears leading up to his first date and what he considers to be important characteristics in a significant other (trust, kindness, and humor). His advice to others in a relationship is to be sure to talk every day and keep communication open. He then described what he does to prepare for a date:
- Plan the date (Where? When? What time?)
- Discuss plans with the other person
- Put on nice clothes (khakis)
- Do your hair, brush your teeth and make sure you smell good
Here at CIP, we offer a relationship development group that includes many of the above topics. In addition to fears in dating, preparing for a date, and safety tips for dating online, other topics include:
- Types of relationships
- Stages of friendships
- Assessment of physical appearance and hygiene
- Social aspects of dating
- Nonverbal confidence
- Conflicts and privacy
For families and professionals working with a student who is on the Autism Spectrum, it is important to educate, role play, participate in appropriate self modeling (which can be videotaped for review), and, if you have a group, you can even reinvent “The Dating Game.” This can be very fun and experiential if you practice with friends who you are comfortable with.
About the Authors:
Jennifer Kupiec, MS is the Social Skills Coordinator at CIP Amherst. Jennifer has experience providing individual and group counseling to children, adolescents, young adults and their families, as well as working with students with learning differences.
Ryan Therriault, MA is the Lead Academic Coordinator at CIP Brevard. She received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology with a minor in Cultural Anthropology and a Master of Arts in Social Science Education from the University of Central Florida.