For young adults on the autistic spectrum, forming friendships and personal connections may be extremely difficult due to the social challenges that are a can part of the condition.
In Henderson, a town in western Kentucky, one group is working to help those with autism form friendships more easily. The group, titled “Together Experiencing Autism Meet-Up Group,” or “TEAM G,” was created by Henderson resident Sonya Westerman. According to a report this month by WFPL.org, Westerman was inspired to create the group after observing the challenges her own son faced in developing a social life.
“He was going to church,” Westerman said. “He had his family. He had work group, but there was nothing out there social, and that was what he was really missing.”
TEAM G meets once a month and features the same activities that most young adults would enjoy, like swimming, pool parties, or just hanging out.
Hannah Hall, a member of the group, said she struggled with developing friendships and expressing her feelings, an experience familiar to many on the autistic spectrum.
“All you gotta do is just get people to join in, talk to ’em, don’t be shy, so you won’t be afraid of getting out into the world and stuff like that,” she was quoted as saying.
Although the website Meetup.com lists hundreds of groups for young adults with autism, Westerman was unable to find any in her region of Kentucky. That changed when she met Dawn Wheeler, the founder and director of the family support group
Experiencing Autism Together. The group, which started two years ago with just five people, has since grown to more than a dozen.
“When I first started, I knew that this is something I have in common with everyone and that this is something that we can get to do together,” Jesse Hopgood, a member of Experiencing Autism Together, said. Prior to joining the group, Hopgood didn’t get out much, and had trouble making friends. Since joining, however, things have significantly improved.
“When I first started, I knew that this is something I have in common with everyone and that this is something that we can get to do together,” he said.
Noting that members were becoming comfortable with each other, Westerman and Wheeler have added dinners to monthly events so that participants have more time to hang out. They also anticipate the group to grow in the near future. While the group currently ranges in age from 26 to 31, Westerman thinks it may eventually separate into multiple groups, so that everyone is closer age. She also hopes members will grow to become lifelong friends.
With a positive outlook for the future, Westerman said, “Ours may age up together in their 30s, and 40s and 50s.”