Friend 2 Friend Autism Demystification® Model


The Friend 2 Friend Autism Demystification® model was created to promote understanding, acceptance and empathy toward individuals with autism and related social communication needs and support our community to embrace all persons with autism as valuable, contributing members. This research-based model uses a systematic approach to educate both individuals with autism and their peer groups in an inclusive, fun, age-appropriate and sensitive manner.

What Is Autism Demystification®? The term was coined by the Friend 2 Friend model creator and refers to a process of providing information about the characteristics of autism in a nonjudgmental, generic way that supports a general knowledge or understanding of autism. Autism Demystification brings about a better understanding of autism in general and builds healthy levels of acceptance toward all individuals on the autism spectrum.

The Friend 2 Friend Model

The Friend 2 Friend Autism Demystification® (F2F) model is at the heart of all our programs. The inclusive model encourages the participation of individuals with autism in all our programs. It was designed to promote empathy, while at the same time teach prosocial communication strategies to enhance social interactions. The model fosters understanding, acceptance and empathy by modeling, labeling, explaining, and normalizing characteristics of autism, but never singles out the individual on the autism spectrum who may be participating in the programs.

The Friend 2 Friend approach involves modeling unconventional social, communicative, and self-regulating behaviours or characteristics that individuals on the autism spectrum may exhibit. Providing a visual model of characteristics commonly associated with autism enables participants to form a plan or design of autism in their minds, one based on facts rather than interpretation or speculation. This design is the basis for developing understanding, acceptance, and empathy with their peers on the autism spectrum.

The next step in the model is to label the characteristics we have modeled. Labeling, using affirmative language, provides participants with a name for the unconventional characteristics they may otherwise not understand. It also supports the acceptance of these characteristics or behaviours as genuine and real.

The third step in the model is to explain the characteristics we have modeled and labeled. Explaining the meaning or purpose behind these unconventional characteristics helps participants understand the reason why the characteristics or behaviours occur and helps to avoid assumptions and misinterpretation of unconventional characteristics.

The final and perhaps most important step in the Friend 2 Friend model is normalizing. Once we have modeled and labeled characteristics of autism and explained the purposes of those characteristics, we then link the unconventional characteristics with more conventional characteristics. Normalizing characteristics of autism provides participants with an opportunity for emotional perspective-taking. The sense of identifying with an individual on the autism spectrum shifts the typically developing perspective beyond simply understanding and accepting to feelings of empathy (not sympathy). In turn, empathy translates into prosocial behaviours. Prosocial communication is the basis for fostering mutual friendships between individuals on the autism spectrum and their typically developing peers.

Key Learning Outcomes

The Friend 2 Friend Autism Demystification® model promotes the underlying concept that we are all different in our own way. Everyone has strengths and everyone has challenges. Being a good friend means accepting differences, rather than viewing differences as deficiencies. The F2F model accomplishes this by introducing participants to the five key learning outcomes or goals.

The Five Key Learning Goals support participants to:

  1. Recognize and accept differences in themselves and others by identifying and labeling their own affinities (strengths or gifts) and their own challenges (weaknesses or disabilities)
  2. Recognize individuals with autism as individuals and valuable friends through the use of people first language, i.e., “individual on the autism spectrum” and identitfying "affinties" that indivduals with autism might share with their peers
  3. Recognize that it is important to ask questions and express feelings as a means of learning new things about themselves and others
  4. Empathize with what it feels like to have autism by providing an experiential learning opportunity and by modeling, labeling, explaining and normalizing characteristics of autism
  5. Embrace all types of diversity by supporting participants to recognize that we are all different in our own way

The Seven Friendship Tips

Our Seven Friendship Tips are prosocial communication strategies that enhance social interactions between individuals on the autism spectrum and their peers. We have found that when peers know how to communicate or interact with an individual on the spectrum they are more than likely to do so. The Seven Friendship Tips that follow are key educational components to the Friend 2 Friend model.

  1. Get your friend's attention. Move closer to your friend and say his or her name to get your friend’s attention before you start talking.
  2. Use short sentences. Use fewer words or shorten your sentence when speaking to your friend.
  3. Use gestures or visuals. Use a gesture like pointing to something or a visual like PCS to help your friend understand what you are communicating.
  4. Wait. Give your friend extra time to think about what you are saying and then answer you.
  5. Watch your friend. Watch your friend to learn your friend’s affinities (things your friend is good at or likes to do).
  6. Give your friend choices. When you want to play, offer your friend choices of things your friend likes to do.
  7. Use friendly words. Use friendly words when speaking with your friend like “hi”.

Other Concepts Introduced

Each Friend 2 Friend Puppet Play includes learning concepts that vary depending upon the program. Other learning concepts introduced in the programs may include the following:

•    Social Movement (peer entry)

•    Emotional Regulation

•    Incredible 5-Point Scale

•    Gender Diversity

•    AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication Techniques)

•    Language Processing Disorder

•    Sensory Processing Disorder

•    Autism (related developmental and learning differences)

The Friend 2 Friend model has been "kid-tested" for more than a decade with over 150,000 children throughout Canada, the US and abroad participating in the programs created from the model.