Podcast Episode 31. “We all want friends, a misconception about people on the spectrum is that they don’t want friends”Jamie Wheeler tells us in this week’s podcast.  Jamie runs Austen’s Autistic Adventures, based in Richardson, Texas, a social group where people over the age of 18 can meet friends and engage in fun activities to develop their social skills.

Jamie explains that when her daughter graduated from High School, she lost her peer group as people moved on with the next stages of their lives. Where her daughter had once found comfort in the school choir and theatre groups, there was suddenly a void.

Determined to ensure that her daughter didn’t remain alone, she gave up her career as a college professor and launched a programme that was financially accessible to all and provided daily activities to allow members to experience real friendship relationships and reap the benefits of being part of a social group.

Jamie talks about the challenges of setting up the project and the ongoing battles she has with funding. She talks about the difference it’s made to young people’s lives and the future, as well as top tips for anyone who’s considering setting up something similar.The main struggle Jamie faced when setting up was not knowing where to find people. She faced this challenge head on by using social media, setting up a website and getting the programme out by word of mouth.

Jamie tips for setting up similar groups include
1. Stay community-based
2. Talk to small businesses
3. Have a great social media presence
4. Be truly dedicated to it – don’t be afraid to talk to others

Jamie believes that daily interaction with others, both on and off the spectrum, improves social functioning. This is the case at home and in the community. Furthermore, by going out every day, the community at large gets to know people with autism as individuals, which leads to more, and better, employment and volunteer opportunities.