Three young adults in a restaurant ordering meal with waitress
15 May

Chill Out is carving up the social scene in Brisbane

Chill Out is Code Blue for Autism’s social networking program for young adults on the autism spectrum. Designed specifically for participants enrolled in Chill, the flagship social skills coaching program, Chill Outallows each individual to design their own social life, taking pressure off family to get out and have fun.

As Jack reaches over to put another piece of chicken on the Korean shared tabletop barbeque, his peer mentor Lucy whispers “this is a great time to ask Nathan if he likes chicken”.

It works like this. Participants join the Chill program to practise and consolidate their social skills. Chill covers the complex territory of conversations, the rules, the meanings, the do’s and the don’ts. How to start a conversation, how to keep a conversation going, how to end a conversation, empathy, rejection, how to give and receive a compliment, dating, social media, and the dying art of phone call etiquette. In one term a Chill participant does at least 75 different role-plays and every role-play is a typical social situational rehearsal for the real thing.

A closed Facebook group is the home of the Chill Out suite of events on offer. Participants can choose from game nights, eating out, festivals, theatre shows, music concerts, comedy clubs and more. All events are designed to be conducive to having conversations, consolidating social skills, and having fun! Once registered for the event, peer mentors are assigned and briefed by the Chill team on the target social skill each participant needs to practise at the event. The peer mentor team knows each Chill Out participant’s needs from working closely with them in Chill. Starting and sustaining a conversation is a key target social skill many Chillies practise. Another might be ordering food independently, or it might be not telling everyone about system architecture flaws in the NBN!!!

“You are going great Ned…you haven’t interrupted anyone for nearly two hours…” (words of encouragement from peer mentor Emma).

Peer mentors are a crucial ingredient for Chill Out as not only are they culturally relevant on Saturday night out, they provide the subtle expertise needed to hone in discreetly on a targeted social skill or an inappropriate one that arises across the dinner table.

Orchestrating a social event with friends or family can be tricky no matter which personalities are involved. If there are too many people in the group it can be a challenge to coordinate transport, difficult to get a table and tricky to make sure everyone feels included and part of the group. If the group size is only 2 -3 people, the pressure is on each individual to participate in the conversation from the moment you meet until the end of the night!!!

The Chill Out program combines two peer mentors with four to five young people from the daytime Chill program for a safe, stimulating and fun night out. The Chill Out group is small enough to keep everyone involved and large enough to not have to be on all of the time.

Group size makes a big difference in other ways as well. I know that this might sound judgmental but here goes… A Chill Out group of this size and composition flies under the community radar, no coaster bus with service provider logos (not that there’s anything wrong with that), no volunteer carers in a different age bracket (not that there’s anything wrong with that), no groups being counted on the footpath to find one has absconded (not that there’s anything wrong with that either). Just six or seven young people who all know each other going out for pizza and beer, or to watch a World Cup game at a fanatical Italian restaurant, or to share cooking duties at a Korean barbeque restaurant.

Frankie shouts at the top of his lungs “This Korean Fried Chicken is better than KFC!” Peer mentor Melanie agrees, smiles and gestures to Frankie to lower his voice. The rest of the group, in complete support of Frankie’s proclamation, grab extra fried chicken to add to their plates.

Families and carers enjoy seeing their young person engaged independently in a social activity as the pressure is taken off them to be the sole source of their young person’s entertainment and socialisation. Chillies quickly start to build a network of new friends whose relationships are nurtured and supported at each event.

“We feel so normal when Matthew goes to a Chill Out event on a Saturday night! We know he gets support when he needs it and at the same time he is socially independent, which for us is huge! He is doing what other 19 year olds are doing on a Saturday night – having fun with his friends
Father of Matthew – Chill Out participant

In an ideal world, the Chill Out program will make itself redundant to participants over time as they master their repertoire of social skills and public venues. For those participants who blossom in this environment of social independence, the opportunity exists to develop their leadership skills and join the team of peer mentors. The precedent already exists within the daytime Chill program, where two participants on the autism spectrum have gone on to join the team of paid peer mentors.

Chill Out is currently programmed and administered by Code Blue staff, but with the tremendous outcomes and success so far, we hope to hand the event programming over to a group of committed Chill graduates.

Helen Whelan
Founder and CEO
Code Blue For Autism

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