“The process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another.”

Let’s face it, transitions are hard. We do many things to avoid transitions. When we cannot avoid them, we prepare for them. While in the midst of a transition, we all exhibit many behaviours that express our internal state such as crying, and behaviours that keep us well-regulated during the transition such as going for a walk.

Some transitions have a huge impact on our lives, while others are part of daily routines. Regardless of the impact of the transition, transition cause us varying amounts of stress.

Life is a never-ending transition. Therefore, attempting to avoid or postpone them is never going to make transitions easier. In fact, it will make them much harder. The good news is we can make transitions easier – it is all in the prep.

At the Friend 2 Friend Play Centre we have a saying, “Prepare 100%, use 30%” This means we prepare as much as we can for every eventuality to ensure the children and youths that we support are successful. Even if we only use 30% of what we have prepared, we know we have done all we can.

If you are a parent of an individual with autism, think about all the transitions your child experiences in a single day. Are you preparing 100% for all those transitions?

Here are some transition strategies that may make transition easier for your child and you for you:

  • Provide and review a visual schedule prior to the transition,
  • Provide and review a Social Story® about the transition and / or the upcoming activity prior to the transition,
  • Offer your child closed choices giving them a sense of control over the transition,
  • Carry a transition object – holding a beloved object, phone, iPad etc will help distract your child during transitions lowering their anxiety
  • Plan an exit strategy with your child – come up with a plan of action before they become dysregulated,
  • Respect your child’s wishes – if your child puts on the breaks, slow down, listen and respect their needs.

While we cannot control all the transitions that we will face in our lives, we can prepare, prepare, prepare thus making those transitions a little smoother on ourselves and our children.



Changing the Game

Changing the Game Virtual Reality Autism Demystification 

I hadn’t really noticed the young man in the line-up waiting for his turn to demo our Virtual Reality Autism Demystification program until he spoke. “Do you need people who have sensory challenges to try it too?” he asked. Katie Robbins, Program Coordinator at Friend 2 Friend Social Learning Society answered. “Yes, of course, we need that perspective most of all,” Katie replied. The young man smiled back at her reply.

By that time, we had been providing demos at the AASCEND Conference SFSU for 6 hours straight. We were exhausted. We were also rushing to pack up as another presenter required the room right away. I was busy myself providing demos so didn’t really notice as this young man began his turn with the demo. I did hear Katie do her usual spiel about how to use the Samsung HMD Odyssey Windows Mixed Reality headset. Supporting new users is a necessary step as VR is such a new technology to most.

This particular young man came to my full attention when I heard him say, “I just need to dry my eyes” as he quickly took off the headset. Katie suggested that perhaps he not continue with the demo, but his reply was, “No, I want to finish it. It is really cool” as he dried his eyes and then put the headset back on.

Changing the Game

Following their demo, each user was asked to fill out a questionnaire to provide us with data, comments, and feedback on their experience in the VRADP. We collected over 48 surveys that day. While some users chose not to fill out questionnaires, this young man did and identified himself as on the autism spectrum.  We knew from the rating that he felt the VRADP demo was excellent. He was also one of the few individuals on the spectrum who took the demo that day to write a comment, here is what he wrote:

“It was fun. It made me cry. It was completely accurate and made me vividly re-live kindergarten. I would play it all day.”

Needless to say, he was not the only person to cry that day over his reaction to our VRADP. Katie and I reached for the tissues as we reviewed his survey.

When we were starting Friend 2 Friend Social Learning Society and designing the Autism Demystification model and programs 18 years ago, I could not have imagined how the delivery of these programs would grow and change over the years just like my children. And like my three children, the Virtual Reality Autism Demystification program has grown our little program into adulthood. Ready, able and capable of leaving the nest. Able to fly on its own to help educate a new generation to understand, accept and empathize, while promoting friendships between with individuals with autism and their peers worldwide.

Join us Nov 22, 2018, at the Friend 2 Friend Play Centre for our Virtual Reality Demo Evening.



Play Groups Catch 22 

Play Groups Catch 22  – Finding the right peers to play with your child with autism

The Play Groups Catch 22: A family would like their child with autism to have to attend a Play Groups program. They feel their child would benefit from the opportunity to play and make friends under the guidance of highly trained professionals. Families may also feel their child does not have the supports necessary to play and make friends in other environments. However, an essential part of the Play Groups program is that the child with autism attends with a peer from their natural peer group (expert player). Ah, the Play Groups Catch 22!

The Play Groups programs are unique and somewhat tricky to set up. The philosophy is that the intervention focuses on guiding the play and learning of both the child with autism and their peers. Therefore, the focus is on ensuring all the children are a good match in age, ability, and interests. However, once the programs start, the emphasis shifts to building relationships with and between the children. Building relationships can take some time. However, it is key to the success of the program. Building strong relationships enables us to support the development of group identity and of friendships.

During the Play Groups program, peers (expert players) learn on ‘how to’ play and make friends with the child with autism. If the peer is from the child’s natural peer group, then these new skills will transfer to another environment. Therefore, peers from the child with autism natural peer group are critical to the child’s success in the Play Groups program but more importantly, critical to the child’s success in other environments such as school.

Peers (expert players) who attend Play Groups from the natural peer group provide the following supports:
• Friendship. Having even one ‘friend’ at school can lower anxiety and increase engagement
• Group identity, because we all need to feel like we belong
• Modeling for other peers and adults, ‘how to’ successful play and interact with your child
• Rapid generalization of skills learned at Play Groups to other environments
• Opportunity to create lifelong friendships

Whether your child with autism attends Play Groups programs or not, below are some tips you can use to find the right peers to play with your child with autism and to avoid the Play Groups Catch 22:

Classmates – Usually, there are a few children in your child’s class that would make great expert players. Look for children who show interest in your child. Ask your child’s teacher if they might know which peer is a “mother hen,” a “class clown” or a “middle child.” All these personality types make good expert players. The Society can provide families with expert player invitation letters to circulate in your child’s class or other community settings. Offer to bring the peers with your child with autism. By doing so, you are encouraging registration as families are not required to do the drop-off or picks, and provides the players alone time during the trip to and from Play Groups each week.

Siblings and Cousins – Some siblings and cousins make great expert players, and some do not. Usually, we recommend siblings, and sometimes cousins join the Play Groups program, but in another group from their sibling/cousin with autism. This way they benefit from participating and learning at Play Groups without the stressors that may come with a pre-existing relationship.

Ask Your Friends. Your friends likely have children or nieces or nephews that would make great expert players. Request that they register their child in your child’s Play Groups program or another group.

Ask Your Family. Your family members may have friends whom they could ask. Requesting support from your family is a great way to involve them in learning about the Play Groups programs and your child’s development. They are also welcome to take the free online parent training at any time.

Ask Professionals. If you have other professionals working with your child, ask them if they have children or other clients who may be interested in registering their expert players. Asking for community supports is a great well to bring our community together.

Put up a Poster. Ask your child’s teacher, school, or community setting to post the expert player poster (provided here) This small act not only supports your child and family but also helps other families who may be struggling to find expert players

Expert players attend all our programs completely free of charge (register click here). Research suggests that expert players gain advanced skills while attending Play Groups programs. More importantly, they enjoy participating in the Play Groups programs and ask to come back again and again.


Giving Tuesday is All About Giving Time

The definition of “give” states: to freely transfer the possession of (something) to (someone). While most of us think to give means to give money, it is only in the running of a charity that you truly understand the meaning of “give”. 

Giving Tuesday is All About Giving Time

Time is a most valuable thing we can give to anyone or anything. The Team at Friend 2 Friend Social Learning Society knows all about the value of giving time.  That is because we spend a lot of time giving to the children with and without autism and families we support.

The Friend 2 Friend Team gives our time to:

Understand each unique individual child for who they are.

Know and understand each child’s affinity.

Create materials and play themes that are affinity based so that children are natural drawn to engage with them.

Assess each child’s unique needschallenges and gifts and then to design an individualized program for each child.

Support families not only in understanding our programs, but also ensuring they have resources they need from the community.

Ensure the Play Centres have materials that are engaging and fun to support the development of play and friendships.

Ensure the Play Centres are designed well, are clean and tidy making them a fun and safe place to play and make friends.

Find and build new Play Centre locations in an effort to meet the overwhelming demand for our unique peer play programs.

Create new programs to meet the need for our programs world-wide.

Train play guides to ensure the staff is well trained and able to provide programs.

Train others, around the world, who want to use our programs and models with children in their community.

And finally, we give our time to raise money. Money that ensures we have the time needed to support children with autism to play, make friends and feel accepted for who they are within their schools and communities.

Therefore, this year on Giving Tuesday November 28 regardless of which charity you give to, remember that Giving Tuesday is All About Giving Time.


New Family Training Online

New Family Training Online

New Family Training Online course is offered to families (parents, grandparents, primary caregivers) of children with autism and related needs ages 3 through 18.

This self-directed course enables families to access our online parent training completely free of charge at any time from the convenience of their own home. The online session takes approximately 60-minutes to complete, and includes the following information:

Introduction to Friend 2 Friend Social Learning Society
Tips for Parents
Demystifying Autism
Overview of our Play Centre Programs

The goal of the session is to support families to better understand autism and provide helpful tips and strategies as they support their child’s unique social, communication and peer play needs. In addition, the session provides families with information about our Play Centre programs.

To register for our Free Family Training Online Click Here

Peers are a Necessity Not a Luxury for Children with Autism

At school this week during lunch break Jason approached an older boy. Attempting to initiate play with the boy, Jason asks, “Would you like to hear a song?” The older boy answers, “Yes”.  Jason proceeded to sing his song. The older boy tells him to stop. However, Jason has the kind of mind that autism. Therefore, once he has started a song – he must finish the song. And Jason keeps singing. The older boy says, “If you don’t stop I will hit you”.  Jason is completely caught off guard (he considered the social interaction to be a very positive one), and runs away. The older boy chases him. Jason, terrified, screams at the top of his lungs and continues to run.

“I screamed so loud I lost my voice”, Jason says to the playground teacher when asking for help. The playground teacher answers, “I told you not to sing that song”.  

Luckily, Jason attends the Integrated Play Groups® program at the Friend 2 Friend Play Centre with Cayleigh, one of his classmates and an expert player. Cayleigh hears Jason screaming from across the playground and comes to his aid. She locates Jason, helps him to feel better, and takes him to the office where he can call his mother.

Peers are a Necessity Not a Luxury for Children with Autism

However, in recent years, more emphasis has been placed on behavioural interventions and teaching individuals with autism ‘social skills’. But at Friend 2 Friend we have always known that peer play and friendships are a necessity for children with autism. Therefore, we have made friendships the focus of our programs and services for more than 15 years. Our programs concentrate on teaching peers how to understand, accept, empathize and play with their peers on the autism continuum. We work to develop empathy to change the minds, attitudes and skills of the typically developing peers as a means of intervention.
Individuals with autism have unique social and communication needs. This makes the development of the peer play and friendships between children with autism and peers a necessity not a luxury. While peer play and friendships are important for social and emotional growth, friendships are important to children’s health and safety as well.

“Peers are a necessity not a luxury in human development” W.W. Hartup

Want to learn more? Autism Demystification® Online Course

Why Play Groups?

Why Play Groups?

Julia is Old Hat to US

I must admit I have been avoiding watching ‘Julia’, the new puppet with autism on Sesame Street. You see Julia is old hat to us because for over the past 17 years we have been creating and delivering the Autism Demystification® Puppet Programs. During these years, I have seen a lot of “takes” on autism in pop culture. Unfortunately, most of these “takes” were epic fails, adding to stereo types and increasing the “us vs. them” attitudes.

So, I avoided watching Julia. My worry was that Sesame Street’s new character would undo all our hard work. However, I was pleasantly surprised at Sesame Street’s take. I only cringed twice during the episode LOL. Even though they are not teaching prosocial communication strategies, as Ollie, a
10-year-old with autism reminded us the other day. After watching the Julia episode, he pointed out, “Mom, they forgot to use Friendship Tip #4 –
they were going too fast, they need to wait for Julia to answer”.

While not “innovative”, I applaud Sesame Street for their addition of Julia. Julia does represent changing attitudes – and this is wonderful.

When I started developing and delivering our Autism Demystification® Puppet Program more than 15 years ago, educators freaked out at the puppet using the word autism. Yes, that is correct,  many requested we drop the word autism from the program completely.  It was like the puppets were using a 4-letter word. Also, when we started delivering our Autism Demystification® Puppet Program more than 15 years ago, self-regulating behaviours where called “stims”, dysregulation was called “melt downs” or “tantrums”, and affinities were called “perseverations”.

The focus in the autism community at that time was “cure”.  You needed to “fix your broken child” through an intensive 40 hours a week of “behavioural modification”. However, Friend 2 Friend Social Learning Society took a completely different approach. Our focus was on understanding, acceptance and building empathy and friendships. We have worked hard over the past 15 years to change misconceptions and demystify autism. I am proud to be able to see evidence that we have been successful.

So, while Julia may seem cutting edge to the world, Julia is old hat to us at Friend 2 Friend who have had many Julia’s over the past 15 years. In fact, their names are: Min, Freddie, Angela and Angus. And of course, You Don’t Know, Jack! (animations by Iain Robbins).

Want to learn more? Autism Demystification Online Course

Free Autism Demystification Online Course for BC Communities

In celebration of World Autism Awareness Month, Friend 2 Friend Social Learning Society offers Free Autism Demystification Online Course for BC Communities. Friend 2 Friend will provide schools, school districts and other not for profit organizations our free BC Communities Capacity Program through our Autism Demystification Online Course.

Each year Friend 2 Friend Social Learning provides 5 Communities in BC with our BC Communities Capacity Building Program. This year we will offer our new Autism Demystification® Online Course  free to 5 schools, school districts or other not for profit organizations in BC.

This program provides participants with the knowledge, tools and techniques to implement the Friend 2 Friend Autism Demystification® Puppet Program curriculum with children aged 3 through 11. And works to address the needs of rural communities throughout BC by providing the training and tools to implement our Autism Demystification® Programs with children ages 3 to 11.

Participants from BC organizations will receive 14-day access to this self-directed, interactive online course that includes the following learning modules: Module 1: Introduction, Module 2: About the Society, Module 3: Guiding Principles, Module 4: What Does it Feel Like to Have Autism?, Module 5: Implementing the Program, Module 6: Wrap Up

Upon completion of the course, participants have access to a digital copy of the packaged curriculum including: the puppet play video entitled “You Don’t Know, Jack”, a course manual, and a children’s colouring story book adapted from the puppet play, as well as downloadable support materials.

 For information on whether your organization would qualify Free Autism Demystification Online Course for BC Communities program please contact our office. 

Go Beyond Awareness To Demystification

World Autism Awareness Day is not a special day in my life. In fact, it is just like every other day. This is because every day I work to encourage the world to go beyond awareness to demystification.

When my child started school, I watched him suffer from social isolation in the school environment. Therefore, I felt compelled to do what I could to change this situation for all children who experience social isolation and peer rejection.

In 2002, after several years of extensive research, I designed and implemented the Friend 2 Friend Autism Demystification® Programs. With the unwavering support of my husband, we then founded Friend 2 Friend Social Learning Society, a not for profit, charity based in Vancouver, BC, Canada. The Society provides a variety of programs and services based on our signature Autism Demystification® model, as well as, the Friend 2 Friend – Integrated Play Groups programs based on the model created by Dr. Pamela Wolfberg.

Fast-forward 15 years to April 2, 2017 – World Autism Awareness day. The Society is now an international organization with satellite partners, publications and two Play Centres. But today marks another milestone for the Society. Today we unveil our new Autism Demystification® Online Course.

There is no question that a lot has been accomplished by the Society in 15 years, but it is not nearly enough.  On this World Autism Awareness Day, I challenge you to learn how to model, label, explain and normalize, and to promote friendships between individuals with autism and their peers – Going Beyond Awareness To Demystification!

Friend 2 Friend Unveils Online Course on World Autism Day


Friend 2 Friend Unveils Online Course on World Autism Day

March 31, 2017

News release – For Immediate Release

Vancouver, BC – On April 2, BC-based Friend 2 Friend Social Learning Society will unveil its new Autism Demystification Online Course to celebrate World Autism Awareness Day.

“For the past 15 years, Friend 2 Friend has been providing our innovative Autism Demystification programs to children and their families”, says executive director Heather McCracken. “With the launch of our online course, we have taken a significant step forward in demystifying autism throughout the world.”

The self-directed course prepares participants to deliver the society’s signature Autism Demystification Puppet Program to children ages 3 to 11. “I had the privilege of participating in the review of the Autism Demystification Online Course. I appreciated the clarity of the information presented. I found the 6 modules accessible and easy to move through in terms of language use, literacy levels and multiple ways of learning approaches. The intentional use of visuals and cartoon like characters erased many perceived cultural biases that can often arise. I recommend this course.” Patricia McClelland Instructor, Northern Lights College.

McCracken, who created the Autism Demystification programs says, “Our focus is, and always has been, to promote understanding, acceptance and empathy to enhance the development of friendships between individuals with autism and their peers through our Autism Demystification programs.

“World Autism Awareness Day speaks to the profound impact that autism has had in our communities and on families. Our goal has always been to demystify the world.”

The course launches on April 2, World Autism Awareness Day. “Having adopted the Autism Demystification practices in our preparation of educators, speech-language therapists and related practitioners, I can attest to the profound impact on our schools and community. We are eagerly awaiting the online course to provide greater access and spread the effect of creating a culture that inherently values diversity and inclusion.” states Dr. Pamela Wolfberg, Professor, San Francisco State University and founding director, Autism Institute on Peer Socialization and Play

Friend 2 Friend is a non-government funded, non-profit charity that has been designing and delivering unique programs to children and families in BC, across Canada, and around the world. Friend 2 Friend Social Learning Society was founded in 2002 by Heather McCracken, a Vancouver parent of three, including a son who has autism.



Twitter @F2FHeather, @F2FPlayCentre


For more information, contact Heather McCracken at cell: 604 671 4028