OSNS launches new program for youth with Autism

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Feelings of belonging and connection play a huge part in youth mental health, especially for youth with social communication challenges such as autism. These youth are at a higher risk of feeling left out or marginalized. The OSNS Child & Youth Development Centre is excited to launch their new youth program, LINK@OSNS in January 2020. Link is specifically designed to increase belonging and connection for the children and youth who attend.

The program - LINK@OSNS was created as a safe social space where youth with autism or other social communication challenges can come to develop social skills and make friendships. The goal of LINK is to help these youth understand all of those non-verbal cues we take for granted; like how to know when to stop talking, how to read a room, and how to use the right kind of eye contact. “Teaching the nuanced aspects of successful friendships is a focus for us” says OSNS Executive Director Manisha Willms.

“There are not a lot of options or programs for youth struggling with social communication in the South Okanagan”, says Andria Anderson, an Occupational Therapist at the OSNS and one of the organizers of the LINK@OSNS program. “The goal of this program is to create a natural and casual space where these youth can build on their communication skills and at the same time just hang out and have fun with new friends”. A new space has been created inside the OSNS specifically for the LINK program complete with games and up-to-date equipment tailored specifically to youth.

The overarching mission of the LINK program is – ‘Everyone will have a friend’. Willms recalls a conversation with a child she once worked with who expressed to her, “One is just so different than two”. That statement holds true for most people, let alone a young person struggling to make friends. LINK@OSNS hopes to bridge that gap for the youth who come through this program.

LINK@OSNS is supported by a Youth Leadership Crew consisting of peer volunteers from local high schools in the community. LINK@OSNS will be an ongoing program and the OSNS is still looking for more Youth Crew volunteers to join the team. To learn more about how to enroll your child or youth in this program or how to volunteer as a part of the Youth Crew, please contact andria.anderson@osns.org or call the OSNS at 250-492-0295.