Tuesday 20 March 2012

Riley's Social Success Puzzle (Part 2): Friend 2 Friend Social Learning Society

With Riley’s communication challenges much of his IEP (Individual Education Plan) goals have always been focused around social and self-help skills as opposed to academic goals. We have never wanted to set limits to what Riley might be able to accomplish yet we also had to be realistic in our expectations for the future as hard as that sometimes was. First and foremost we wanted to ensure R had a happy, positive and successful school experience. 

Another piece of what I like to call “Riley’s Social Success Puzzle” was Friend 2 Friend Social Learning Society’s Autism Demystification programs.  The Friend 2 Friend programs offers "a first step" towards fostering friendships for children on the autism spectrum (McCracken).  Friend 2 Friend Social Learning Society is a local not-for-profit organization that was established in 2002. Heather McCracken, the creator of the F2F model and programs, just happened to be a parent at the boys’ school.  Her son Iain and J2 are the same age and were classmates.

Shortly after Friend 2 Friend (F2F) presented their first puppet presentation to Riley’s grade, I went out with the F2F team to observe one of their presentations.  That was it. I was hooked. I am almost certain I would not have believed the impact of the puppet presentation or simulation game had I not seen it for myself. The way the children were engaged throughout both presentations and picked up on ALL the key learning points amazed me. I volunteered my time on the spot and started a new “career” as a puppeteer/presenter.  :D  Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that however it turned out to be one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve had to date.

Riley's class participating in the F2F Simulation Game
F2F presentations not only to Riley’s class but to the entire school were scheduled in the following years.  The F2F puppet presentation “That’s What’s Different About Me” for the primary grades and the F2F Simulation Game “Demystifying Autism” for the intermediate grades.  These programs were a great compliment/ balance to the “How to Be a Great Friend” program (which was geared specifically to Riley).  The F2F programs provided the students with information about autism (in general) in a fun, age-appropriate, interactive and sensitive manner while introducing their key concept that “everybody is different in his or her own way and being a good friend means accepting differences.”  

The F2F Simulation Game presentation (pictured) helps participants understand "what it feels like" to have autism.  Visit the Friend 2 Friend Social Learning Society website for more information about all their programs and services.

Yes there are still the times that I beat myself up about whether or not we have done all that we could have.  There are always the “what if’s”.  But when I look at Riley today, he is a happy go-lucky teenager (which is more than I can say for some *wink*) and even though there is still a lot of work ahead of us, isn’t their happiness what we all really want for our kids?

Part 3 will be focussed on the positive benefits of both programs and some of the extra curricular activities that were organized for Riley. I welcome any comments/questions you might have.  


  1. Thats fantastic! We came upon a sort of social summer camp here for the summer that just happens to be run by the team of speech therapists that work with Tommy. We're starting NOW to prepare him for it this summer. "You're going to get to have FRIENDS!" I'm sure he has no idea what that means. The anxiety im sure as time gets closer will cause me to regret getting him involved in this lol But... we'll never know until we try, right? So long as they're happy... thats all that matters to me :)

    1. We are SO on the same page! The camp sounds great especially if it's run by SLP's that Tommy knows. Our SLP is the greatest too...she so gets R.

      I know what you mean about the anxiety. I always get that way too. Hopefully it will be one of those YES times! Do you find that sometimes that happens and other times you get hit right out of left field when you aren't expecting it? Stupid question...of course you do. :D