Friendships are an important part of life and a must-have for protecting our mental health. They boost happiness, reduce stress, improve self-confidence and self-worth, and help us cope with traumas.

Thanks to a partnership with Alfred I. DuPont Hospital for Children and an ACCEL grant through the University of Delaware, DGS has been offering a special group therapy program for teens and preteens in Kent and Sussex County who are having difficulty making friends.

“The Program for the Evaluation and Enrichment of Relationship Skills (PEERS) was developed for children and teens who have been diagnosed with moderate to high functioning autism,” said Tiffany Jester, DGS Chief Clinical Officer. The fourteen-week program teaches a wide range of social skills such as tips for texting and how to make casual phone calls and plans to spend time with friends. It also covers appropriate use of humor, bullying, and how to avoid being bullied. Parents or guardians of the participants meet separately, but at the same time, to learn supportive skills and to support each other with their parenting challenges. There’s also homework to ensure participants practice and use their new skills.

The results are promising. “Most kids truly enjoy the program,” Tiffany reflected. “They improve their self-esteem and start spending time with new friends. One teen enjoyed it so much she returned to the sessions as a support member. Another non-verbal teen got an Apple watch specifically so he could use his new-found skill of texting friends.”

DGS staff members were trained in the PEERS intervention by Laura Dewy, Ph.D., Pediatric Psychologist at Alfred I. DuPont Hospital and Brian Freedman, Ph.D., Director of the Transition, Education, and Employment Model (TEEM) Unit at the University of Delaware Center for Disabilities. The ACCEL program is designed to improve health care in Delaware by bridging the gap between health researchers and communities.

Interested in participating in these sessions? Call DGS at (302) 652-3948.