Funding provides social skills classes for young adults with autism

Tuesday, September 04, 2012 - Funding provides social skills classes for young adults with autism

JOPLIN, Mo.—Richard Snider confidently walked into a job interview three months ago. He sat across from his interviewer and engaged in conversation. As he spoke about his past job experience, Snider made eye contact and transitioned easily from one topic to another.

Not long ago, that job interview would likely have gone quite differently. As a young adult living with autism, Snider had difficulty staying focused and engaged in a discussion. He struggled with starting conversations and, because of that, never really felt as though people truly got to know him. But that has changed since Snider enrolled in a social skills class offered at the Bill & Virginia Leffen Center for Autism, formerly Ozark Center for Autism. Through those classes, Snider improved his ability to maintain conversations and understand cues from others. He can now strike up a conversation backed by self-belief.

The courses gave him confidence he never knew he had. “Before I enrolled, I wouldn’t join into conversations going on around me,” said Snider, 25. “But now I think people get to see the real me.”

Thanks to additional funding from the Southwest Missouri Parent Advisory Committee on Autism, these social skills classes for young adults such as Snider will continue. The Bill & Virginia Leffen Center for Autism received $25,000 from the committee to continue and expand its social skills courses.

“We truly are grateful to the Southwest Missouri Parent Advisory Committee on Autism for the opportunity to introduce these life-changing skills to more young adults,” said Kristy Parker, Bill & Virginia Leffen Center for Autism Behavior Analyst. “Not only are we able to continue these much-needed courses through this funding, we are now able to expand the program to students as young as 13.”

The classes are offered one-on-one and address functional skills such as hygiene, dating, job acquisition, personal relationships, and other social needs. These courses are important, because they are not readily available in a traditional academic setting, said Parker. Teaching an adult or young adult social interaction often falls on family members who typically do not have a curriculum or strategy to follow.

“Yet these skills are so vital,” said Parker. “Ultimately, we are trying to help our students gain independence and improve their quality of life. We empower them to have control, make their own decisions, and participate in meaningful relationships. Many of our students simply want to attend a social event with their school-age peers or feel accepted. They may not have had those experiences in the past, but we hope through these classes they will in the future.”

Since starting the classes in November 2011, students at the Bill & Virginia Leffen Center for Autism have made tremendous strides. Some have graduated from the courses, while others continue to advance their functional skills. For more information about the school, please contact the Bill & Virginia Leffen Center for Autism at 417.347.7850. To determine eligibility for the social skills courses, please contact the Missouri Department of Mental Health Division of Developmental Disabilities - Joplin Regional Office at 417.629.3020.

About Freeman Health System

Based in Joplin, Missouri, Freeman Health System is the area’s only locally owned, not-for-profit health system, serving southwest Missouri, southeast Kansas, northeast Oklahoma, and northwest Arkansas. Freeman provides comprehensive healthcare and behavioral health services, including cancer care, heart and vascular care, neurosciences, orthopaedics, and women’s services, with more than 300 physicians representing 60 specialties. For more information, visit or, or follow Freeman President and Chief Executive Officer Paula Baker at

About Ozark Center

An integral component of Freeman Health System based in Joplin, Missouri, Ozark Center provides comprehensive behavioral health services to children, adults, and families in an area that includes more than 450,000 residents from Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Ozark Center continually looks for innovative ways to address the mental health needs of the community and promote awareness of mental illness in an effort to eliminate the discrimination associated with it. For more information, visit or call 417.347.7600.