Sharing Social Opportunities for Kids with Autism

The best method for learning about social opportunities for special needs kids is word-of-mouth. Please share programs that have benefited your child.

I vented in my first blog.  For my sophomore effort, I’d try to be positive but you gotta stick with it.  

It is well known that social skills are not a strength of kids with autism.  My teenage son does not hangout Uptown with friends or even text for that matter.  I have to find social opportunities for him.  It is not easy.  At first I tried the Park District.  When Henry was in single digits, he could participate in some typical programs with an aide but the gap between him and his same age peers quickly expanded, especially when it came to sports.  I also tried a few field trips and athletic programs through the North Suburban Special Recreation Association catalog.  Even though the staff was always outstanding, the ability level in the programs’ participants varied so greatly that Henry didn’t make any social connections.  Since there were such extreme functioning levels, Henry wasn’t always challenged.

Ok, still venting but I am getting to the uplifting part.  Other special needs families who were faced with the same frustration have done something about it.  I would like to highlight a couple programs that have the Henry Seal of Approval.

Jordan’s Corner is the creation of Walter Parenti and Daniel Falcon of Warehouse Gym in Highland Park.  Inspired by the positive effects boxing and fitness have had on Dan’s brother, Jordan, they knew other special needs kids could improve their coordination, socialization and overall well-being at their gym. Joined by other Warehouse Gym team members, they put together a Saturday class that besides being free (yes, free) stresses confidence building, socialization, health and wellness.  I’d swear they are all natural-born physical therapists.  Their interactions are incredibly intuitive.   Not to mention that the Warehouse instructors are all over the top nice and reality-show beautiful.  They are their own best advertisement.  Mary Parthe at the gym coordinates the program.  Her email is Mary Parthe mparthe@tawani.net   

Slammers Sports is a modified basketball and baseball sports program.  According to their website, “Slammers was started in the summer of 2003 by two fathers who loved their kids, loved sports, and were frustrated by the lack of sports programming for kids with cognitive disabilities”.  What I love about the program is they teach the kids actual sports skills.  The first half of class is devoted to drills and the second half they play a game.  There are accommodations during play but more importantly they keep score.  This is unusual in the special needs world.   Not all special needs kids are too fragile to learn about winning and losing.  Since it is run by volunteers and many expenses are offset by in-kind donations, Slammers Sports passes the savings onto the already strapped parents.  The cost is minimal (less than $100 per season) and they offer scholarships.  For more info, http://www.slammerssports.org/

A small program new to me is The Friendship Circle.  Unlike the previous programs, Henry has not participated in this one.  I recently signed him up for it and hope he will have a chance to try it out.  I am optimistic about the program simply by its description at fcil.org.  

If there are other programs that you’d like to share, please post them.  I have found the best extracurricular activities for Henry through word-of-mouth communication.  In fact, I’ve been known to eavesdrop once I overhear the key word “autism”.  I will interrupt another party at a restaurant if they happen to be talking about a good social play experience, therapist or special needs teacher that I think will help Henry.

I did not forget about other larger programs dear to my heart such as Keshet’s Buddy Baseball and Special Gifts Theater but decided to save them for another time.  Stay tuned.

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sibuna January 15, 2013 at 04:53 PM
I criticized your first "venting" column, so to be fair, I will praise your efforts with this column as it was imformative and offered guidance. Well done.
Molly January 18, 2013 at 11:39 PM
Vent all you want! By expressing your experiences, good or bad, helps others understand what life is like for a family with an autistic child. Glad you've found a few opportunities that might work.
Karen January 21, 2013 at 12:15 AM
Thank you for the information. I too have a son in the Elm Place STEP program. He lives watching sports but is easily intimidated when playing with most kids his own age. I read your 'venting' article and appreciated the candor. I understand that we, as parents, rise to the occasion and focus on the positives of our children. However, if we are honest, we've all had our moments of frustration. We are a military family and move every 2-3 years. If you can imagine the usual challenges with the adventure of learning new programs, always living far from family, and being a single parent for 6-8 months at a time; that is our life. But this life has brought us here to Highland Park to be a part of the 112 school district & all it's opportunities. Thank you all for demanding the best from your school administrators & teachers, and creating programs for those with specia needs.
Jill Goldstein January 21, 2013 at 12:21 AM
Karen, it was nice to hear from you. At risk of repeating myself, have you checked out the Firehouse Youth Center for middle school kids? My son goes there for homework help and social opportunities every day after school but you can do it as little as one day a week. It might be a win-win for you. I can't imagine moving every few years with a special needs child. Feel free to email me anytime. I am on the STEP program email list.
Karen January 21, 2013 at 01:44 AM
I will check it out. Thanks again!
Geanie January 21, 2013 at 01:55 AM
Jill, I would love to know more about everything!!! We are getting ready to move to HP the 1st of March. I have a 13 year old with autism :)
Jill Goldstein January 21, 2013 at 01:59 AM
Hi Geanie: I don't know everything but I know a lot of really good people. My email address is jcgoldstein@comcast.net. Welcome to HP.


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