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UCLA Optimists

Imagine if someone jumped into your conversation at a party without an introduction, interrupting you mid-sentence.

That might strike you as odd or rude. But when we give someone the simple advice to "just go up and introduce yourself," we're skipping many of the nonverbal steps important to making a good impression.

For most, connecting with other people relies on intuition. However,social interactions of all sorts — from just saying "hello" to a new acquaintance to interviewing for a new job — can be challenging. For people with autism, it can be even more difficult to know how to strike up that first conversation.


Image via iStock.

That’s why UCLA psychologist Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson made it her mission to help.

Through her work at the Semel Institute and her work with Fred Frankel in 2005, she created a program that helps young adults with social challenges, such as those on the autism spectrum, make and keep friends by breaking down social interactions into easy-to-follow steps.

This program, called the Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS), teaches them how tolisten, interact, and communicate with others.  

Photo from UCLA PEERS via AP.

"We want to teach to the way that [people with autism] think. What works? Concrete rules and steps," Laugeson explains.

Most people pick up on social cues, like body language and facial expressions, quite naturally. But many people with autism struggle with abstract thinking. Concrete communication works best for many, according to the Indiana Research Center for Autism.

That's why, Laugeson explains, the first step is actually about learning to listen before jumping in.

"The first step is that you’d watch the conversation and kind of listen to the conversation," she explains.

Image via iStock.

Some of us might use a prop, like a cellphone, to look distracted while listening to a conversation we’re thinking about joining. We’ll spend this time eavesdropping for a common interest.

Next, we might move closer to the conversation, waiting for a pause to jump in with something on topic. Of course, this process involves assessing whether the person or group is interested in talking to us.

Introductions usually don’t come until mid-conversation, Laugeson says. This is why "just go up and say hello" may not the best advice, especially for people who struggle to pick up on subtle cues.

There are social nuances that go beyond first interactions, too, and the curriculum at PEERS addresses many of them.

UCLA PEERS also teaches students how to deal with conflict and bullying, for example.

Individuals with autism are especially vulnerable to bullying. The Interactive Autism Network found in a study that 63% of children ages 6 to 15 with autism spectrum disorder have experienced bullying.

Image via iStock.

This is another area where neurotypical people may give ineffective advice. People usually suggest dealing with teasing in one of three ways: ignore the bully, walk away, or tell an adult. But these strategies don’t always work, Laugeson says.

"These responses often make it worse for the victim and not better," she explains.

During a bullying situation, a neurotypical person will usually respond with a short, dismissive comeback. A casual "whatever" or "Is that supposed to be funny?" can make the aggressor’s comments seem boring.

This is a great way to show the ability to stand up for one’s self while diffusing the situation and avoiding more confrontation. Laugeson teaches this tactic in PEERS to her students, helping them deal with teasing in a way others might naturally react.

Image via iStock.

These are just a few ways that PEERS helps students who struggle socially.

Since 2005, PEERS has expanded from UCLA to locations across the country and throughout the world.

The PEERS method can also help preschoolers, adolescents, and young adults with ADHD, anxiety, depression, and other socio-emotional problems too.

And it’s more accessible than ever, thanks to her book, "The Science of Making Friends," and an app called FriendMaker, which acts as a virtual coach for social situations and includes role-playing exercises for making and keeping friends.

Friendship is a critical part of mental health, though it’s easy to take this for granted.

This is why programs like UCLA PEERS are so important, particularly for individuals who can't easily navigate social situations.

According to the Mayo Clinic, friendships can boost happiness, encourage a healthy lifestyle, reduce stress, improve self-confidence, help in coping with trauma, and much more.

Laugeson teaching social skills at a PEERS group. Image from UCLA PEERS via AP.

Laugeson shared a story of a student who had been in and out of psychiatric units with a long history of mental health issues. The young man had tried many medications by the time he joined PEERS.

"This was a kid who had been highly medicated over the years. He came to me at graduation and he told me friendship was the best medicine for him," Laugeson recounted. "It absolutely can change a life to have a friend."

PEERS has helped numerous students like him, not only in making friends, but in attending college, getting jobs, and even embarking on romantic relationships.

For the past 12 years, the skills taught at PEERS have helped improve the lives of thousands of people all over the world. For a skill set that’s so rarely taught, it’s transformative to make the art of friendship a little more accessible for those who need it.

All images provided by Bombas

We can all be part of the giving movement

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We all know that small acts of kindness can turn into something big, but does that apply to something as small as a pair of socks?

Yes, it turns out. More than you might think.

A fresh pair of socks is a simple comfort easily taken for granted for most, but for individuals experiencing homelessness—they are a rare commodity. Currently, more than 500,000 people in the U.S. are experiencing homelessness on any given night. Being unstably housed—whether that’s couch surfing, living on the streets, or somewhere in between—often means rarely taking your shoes off, walking for most if not all of the day, and having little access to laundry facilities. And since shelters are not able to provide pre-worn socks due to hygienic reasons, that very basic need is still not met, even if some help is provided. That’s why socks are the #1 most requested clothing item in shelters.

homelessness, bombasSocks are a simple comfort not everyone has access to

When the founders of Bombas, Dave Heath and Randy Goldberg, discovered this problem, they decided to be part of the solution. Using a One Purchased = One Donated business model, Bombas helps provide not only durable, high-quality socks, but also t-shirts and underwear (the top three most requested clothing items in shelters) to those in need nationwide. These meticulously designed donation products include added features intended to offer comfort, quality, and dignity to those experiencing homelessness.

Over the years, Bombas' mission has grown into an enormous movement, with more than 75 million items donated to date and a focus on providing support and visibility to the organizations and people that empower these donations. These are the incredible individuals who are doing the hard work to support those experiencing —or at risk of—homelessness in their communities every day.

Folks like Shirley Raines, creator of Beauty 2 The Streetz. Every Saturday, Raines and her team help those experiencing homelessness on Skid Row in Los Angeles “feel human” with free makeovers, haircuts, food, gift bags and (thanks to Bombas) fresh socks. 500 pairs, every week.

beauty 2 the streetz, skid row laRaines is out there helping people feel their beautiful best

Or Director of Step Forward David Pinson in Cincinnati, Ohio, who offers Bombas donations to those trying to recover from addiction. Launched in 2009, the Step Forward program encourages participation in community walking/running events in order to build confidence and discipline—two major keys to successful rehabilitation. For each marathon, runners are outfitted with special shirts, shoes—and yes, socks—to help make their goals more achievable.

step forward, helping homelessness, homeless non profitsRunning helps instill a sense of confidence and discipline—two key components of successful recovery

Help even reaches the Front Street Clinic of Juneau, Alaska, where Casey Ploof, APRN, and David Norris, RN give out free healthcare to those experiencing homelessness. Because it rains nearly 200 days a year there, it can be very common for people to get trench foot—a very serious condition that, when left untreated, can require amputation. Casey and Dave can help treat trench foot, but without fresh, clean socks, the condition returns. Luckily, their supply is abundant thanks to Bombas. As Casey shared, “people will walk across town and then walk from the valley just to come here to get more socks.”

step forward clinic, step forward alaska, homelessness alaskaWelcome to wild, beautiful and wet Alaska!

The Bombas Impact Report provides details on Bombas’s mission and is full of similar inspiring stories that show how the biggest acts of kindness can come from even the smallest packages. Since its inception in 2013, the company has built a network of over 3,500 Giving Partners in all 50 states, including shelters, nonprofits and community organizations dedicated to supporting our neighbors who are experiencing- or at risk- of homelessness.

Their success has proven that, yes, a simple pair of socks can be a helping hand, an important conversation starter and a link to humanity.

You can also be a part of the solution. Learn more and find the complete Bombas Impact Report by clicking here.

via UNSW

This article originally appeared on 07.10.21


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