Olivia was diagnosed with autism when she was 9 years old. Her mother suspected Olivia may have autism before her actual diagnosis, but her pediatrician said she was” too social” to have autism. Although Olivia may have been social, she struggled with back-and-forth conversations with others. Most of the phrases she used in conversation stemmed from the phrases she heard in her favorite movies and television shows.
In 2019, the family moved to Arizona largely because Olivia’s mother, Kim, heard about the programs and services available at SARRC.
With all the new transitions of living in a new state and starting a new school, Olivia’s parents thought it would be best if their daughter could learn about how to create and maintain friendships and develop her social skills. After reading about SARRC programs, they found PEERS—a 14-week intervention program that teaches social and friendship skills to cognitively able adolescents with ASD, alongside typically developing peers.
After enrolling Olivia in PEERS, Kim saw a shift and genuine excitement in their daughter.
“For the first time, [Olivia] was actively participating and motivated to do well. She wasn’t just going through the motions or observing, as she had done with social groups in the past. She took her PEERS homework very seriously each week and she looked forward to the next session,” says Kim.
In addition to this newfound motivation, Olivia also sought feedback from her mother throughout the course of the program, something she had never done before.
After completing PEERS, the family also noticed she had much more confidence in herself. She’s been able to have more engaging conversations and keeps in contact with old friends. Previously, she would deny her friends’ requests to FaceTime, text or call because she didn’t feel confident in her social and communication abilities. But now, Olivia communicates with her friends regularly and even initiates calls on her own.
Despite the pandemic, Olivia has been able to make new friends in Arizona. She has one friend in particular that she calls on Zoom every weekend. She also participates in a weekly girls’ art club where she can work on projects chat with other girls interested in art.
“These are things that Olivia never would have done before PEERS, and things I never thought I’d see her do. We feel that PEERS has allowed her to become one step closer to the independence she needs with her social relationships,” Kim shares.
NOW ENROLLING FOR FALL 2021
SARRC's next PEERS session starts Sept. 9, 2021, and will be held using Zoom. To enroll or learn more about PEERS, please contact us at 602.218.8184, email ALyon@autismcenter.org or visit autismcenter.org/peers-program.