“I want friends” The Friend 2 Friend Philosophy
My son, like so many other individuals I know on the autism continuum wants the one thing that we all want, to have friends and be accepted for who he is.
When you ask people “What do you remember most about school?” the answer is almost always “my friends”. Friendships are what motivate us to get up in the morning and go to school and to work. Imagine what it must be like for a child on the autism spectrum to attend school each day knowing that no one will ask you to sit beside them at lunch, or invite you to play after school or to go to their birthday party.
“I wonder why school is hard?”
Watching my son suffer from social isolation I felt compelled to do what I could to change this situation, not only for my son, but for others who experience these same social difficulties. In 1997, I began reading everything I could get my hands on about friendships between typical children and those with special needs. I came across a book written by Dr. Pamela Wolfberg entitled “Play and Imagination in Children with Autism.” The Integrated Play Groups® (IPG) model involves bringing children with and without autism together in such a way that true friendships begin to emerge. Dr. Wolfberg’s book inspired me to learn more about fostering peer play and friendships and how the IPG approach could help my son feel part of his peer group.
“I worry about people that don’t understand me.”
After several years of extensive research, development and field-testing, the Friend 2 Friend Autism Demystification® model and programs emerged. In 2002, with the support of my family, we founded Friend 2 Friend Social Learning Society, a non-profit charity based in Vancouver, BC, Canada, and started delivering our signature Autism Demystification® Puppet Program and Simulation Game Program, as well as seminars and training opportunities for parents and professionals.
In 2006 with the support of Dr. Pamela Wolberg, we piloted the Friend 2 Friend – Integrated Play Groups® in schools throughout the Lower Mainland of BC to date we have provided more 130 school based Integrated Play Groups programs. And in 2006 we published our first packaged program entitled That’s What’s Different About Me. In 2009, we published our second publication entitled, Demystifying Autism: The Friend 2 Friend Simulation Game Program, in 2010 we published Can I Play Too? Autism Demystification® Puppet Program.
In 2012, Friend 2 Friend Social Learning Society then a decade old created, designed and launch our first Friend 2 Friend Play Centre in East Vancouver, where we have been delivering the Friend 2 Friend – Integrated Play Groups® programs ever since. Reaching capacity in 2014, Friend 2 Friend designed and launched our second Play Centre in New Westminster BC adding new and specialized Integrated Play Groups® program such as a Integrated Drama Groups. And in 2017 we launch our online training paired with our latest Puppet Programs entitled: You Don’t Know, Jack! Autism Demystification ® Puppet Program.
To date Friend 2 Friend has served hundreds of thousands of children with and with autism, and their families, educators and caregivers throughout Canada, the US and abroad.
“I dream of the land of chocolate”
I know that however successful Friend 2 Friend maybe at designing and delivering programs that focus on peer play and promoting of understanding, acceptance, empathy and friendships, it isn’t nearly enough. As parents and professionals, we must continually look for opportunities to model the value of play and friendships between extraordinary individuals on the autism spectrum and their peers.
When I dream of the land of chocolate, it is a place where individuals with autism have friends and feel accepted for who they are within their community. Hopefully, the Friend 2 Friend Autism Demystification® and Integrated Play Groups® models have moved us a little closer to making this dream a reality.
Heather McCracken (mom)
Creator of the Friend 2 Friend Model and Programs
Founder/Executive and Program Director, Friend 2 Friend Social Learning Society