SOCIAL BUTTERFLIES©

“Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.”
Babe Ruth

ABOUT THE PROGRAM

Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), regardless of cognitive level of functioning, exhibit severe deficits in social use of communication. This focal area of impairment, chronic in nature, is found to correlate highly with functional skill levels in the Spectrum and general quality of life. Principal deficits in the social realm of communication include: functional initiation/reciprocation of language, barriers in establishment of social connections and friendships, use of visual attention, comprehension/use of nonverbal communication (i.e.: facial expressions, body language), awareness of figurative language, and capabilities to decipher emotions/feelings, given highly abstract nature.

Participants will collaborate in the study of butterflies with “Live Butterfly Pavilion” kits. Scientific learning experiences will be coordinated with teamwork for functional study of target skills. Social Butterflies© is a model program for individuals functioning at the general autism diagnosis levels in the Spectrum and those at lower functional levels. Team members with higher levels of cognitive/communicative abilities will have opportunities to establish leadership roles, serving as models to peers with increased need of prompts/cues. Despite differentiated levels of functioning in the Spectrum, each participant will learn vital skills that are necessary for effective use of communication and socialization.

The Safety First Initiative will be introduced to focus upon building positive relationships with local policemen. Many findings substantiate considerable problems with policemen and those with autism. Individuals with ASD are significantly more likely to come into contact with law enforcement than typical peers and face challenges from lack of awareness and comprehension of ASD by the police. Individuals with autism cannot be identified by simple appearance; they must be identified by behavior. Given the vast differences in communication abilities and prevalence of individuals who are nonverbal, additional aspects of behavior must be considered. A high occurrence of anxiety is present in individuals with ASD, and a novel encounter with police can be a very stressful situation. Highly adverse reactions could likely be triggered by overload of sensory information. A lack of training and education on autism and disability-related factors can amplify the likelihood of negative outcomes in a police-related encounter.

Building a foundation for positive, informed relationships between members of autism community and local policemen is highly warranted. Members of the Mosaics© Team will offer educational resources to members of law enforcement to provide ample information about members of the community with ASD. A visit to the local police department will be made so that adults with ASD and law enforcement officers can get to know one another. Though the visit will be stressful for some, it can enable/simplify later interactions with police. Such a visit can determine and highlight what stimuli associated with police can trigger anxiety/adverse reactions. Alternatively, building a positive rapport with individuals with ASD also emphasizes the specific needs exhibited by those with autism and the significance of making sure the address of the autistic individual is flagged in the database as the home of someone with special needs. Using such strategies builds a strong groundwork for increased awareness of the unique needs of those with ASD and creates the needed knowledge and awareness between the 2 parties.

Upon close of the Social Butterflies© program, participants will expand social skill sets to include: increased knowledge and ease of asking for help, increased accuracy with identification of body language, increased insight/ability to interpret the feelings/emotions of others, increased awareness of figurative language, and increased social communication skills with spontaneous greeting and initiation of exchanges during social activities. Additionally, recognition and responsiveness will have been established between young adults with ASD and local law enforcement. A beneficial foundation will have been established between individuals with autism and local policemen, building reciprocal knowledge/familiarity and new understanding of how to make our community and all of its members safe and aware of each other.