There were a few hiccups at the start, but late in April, three dedicated mothers launched a new program they call Friendship Force. It is a social club for local individuals 18 and older who have different abilities. They meet on Tuesday afternoons from noon until 4pm in the Studio at the Cavan Monaghan Community Centre.
Attendance so far has ranged from seven to ten participants, all of them male. Participants so far are generally on the Autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This developmental disability is caused by differences in the brain. It affects how people interact with others: how they communicate, learn and behave. People with this disorder often experience problems with social communication and interaction, and restricted or repetitive behaviors or interests. The organizers are not trained therapists, but all share one thing in common: they have a son with this disorder.
Government-funded programs through schools are available for students up to age 21, but after that the young adults are generally on their own. In larger centres like Ottawa, not-for-profit organizations have cropped up to serve this clientele. Like Friendship Force, these other programs are usually launched by parents and caregivers out of frustration with the lack of services or quality of resources available for this special group of young adults.
Activities at Friendship Force meetings are varied, and while some are strongly encouraged by the leaders, participants can choose a quiet, solitary activity if the current suggestion does not appeal. There are board games, music, art supplies and physical activities and, of course, snacks. One week the group tried Pickle ball, and they are gearing up to participate in the Terry Fox run this fall, selling t-shirts to raise funds for the event. Often guests visit the group. Last week a member of the Cavan Monaghan Fire Department dropped in, and they are hoping to host a police officer in the near future.
There is an obvious sense of camaraderie amongst these young men during the program. Laughter, hugs, goofy smiles and rabbit ears abound. They just enjoy each other, one describing his new friend as “hysterical”. They can sit quietly competing in a game of Jenga, or throw bean bags in Corn Hole. At Friendship Force there is little evidence of any social awkwardness between the participants. These people get each other, and according to the organizers, this chemistry happened at the very first meeting.
This is a drop-in program, so participants can come and go as their schedule and energy allows. It is not intended to be a respite program: individuals who need backup support must bring their people. The cost is $10 per participant and caregivers are free.
If you would like to support this group, donations of snacks, games, art supplies or even cash are always welcome. Anyone with a special skill they care to share with the group- musicians, magicians, crafters, athletes, etc.- would enrich the program by providing unique experiences for the participants.
As the word spreads, organizers hope to attract more individuals- perhaps even a few female participants? (There is one in the wings.) To date, one of the organizers has yet to see her own son join the group.
This program is a testament to the dedication commitment of these women: Tammy Craft, Dawn Taylor, and Margaret Aldsworth. They have given these young adults one of the most priceless gifts of all: the feeling of belonging.
To learn more or to offer support, email email@example.com. KG