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Students Help Adults with Autism Develop Social Skills

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CODYCenterBannerWhen some autistic people become interested in a topic, they often become so impassioned about it that they don’t want to talk about anything else. It’s this conversational cul de sac for which Stony Brook students are being recruited to help Cody Center clients between the ages of 18 and 26 avoid, said Virginia Cover, a social worker for the Cody Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities at the University.

This peer-mentoring program gives high-functioning individuals with autism and related disabilities a chance to socialize with people who are “neurotypical” and avoid becoming socially segregated.

“We go out for pizza and to movies, comedy clubs, concerts, and sporting events,” said Cover, who coordinates adult programs at the Cody Center. She has approached a number of student organizations about taking part in a peer-mentoring program of this nature; one of the organizations gave her the names of ten people on campus who are interested in helping.

That group is led by Kiran Lorick, a biochemistry major from the class of 2012, who is organizing the students to begin mentoring in the fall as part of their activities with the Community Services Club.

Other first- and second-year medical students attended a Super Bowl party for the Cody group.

The party was held at the Route 347 Holiday Inn Express in South Setauket, where Cody Center clients caught all of the action on flat screen televisions. John Tsunis, the owner of the Holiday Inn Express, has provided financial support for the Cody Center’s recreational programs and donated space at the hotel for this event.

Cover explained that the group has roughly 30 members but an average of eight to 12 people participate in the outings that take place one or two times a month.

Several staff members specializing in adult services coordinate the outings, sometimes assisted by social work interns, or by graduate students in the Cody Center’s applied behavior analysis program.

“We provide the peer mentors with some training on how to work with clients on the autism spectrum and those with other developmental disorders,” said Cover. “We’ll focus on how to initiate conversations and how to promote dialogue among participants. If someone gets stuck on a favorite topic, we’ll show mentors how to help move the group members from one topic to another and demonstrate how group members can take turns in making conversation.”

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