From Awkward to In Love

Dating Workshop Helps People With Asperger's Syndrome

Useful Advice: Participants in a workshop for people with Asperger’s syndrome discuss tips for dating and socializing.
courtesy of adaptations
Useful Advice: Participants in a workshop for people with Asperger’s syndrome discuss tips for dating and socializing.

By Rukhl Schaechter

Published June 02, 2012, issue of June 08, 2012.
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The program was started by the mother of an Asperger’s child. It has a close relationship with the Seaver Center for Autism Research and Treatment at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital. Twice a month, a psychologist and several assistants from Seaver teach social skills to Adaptations members. Adaptations itself is part of the Center for Special Needs at the JCC of Manhattan, which is also directed by Kleinman.

Many participants in the dating workshop have already developed meaningful relationships and have even begun to take initiative.

“Now when I’m finished with a session, one of them will say, ‘Hey, guys, let’s go out to dinner!’” related Paige Weinger, a doctoral student at the Seaver Center.

Member Danielle Lazzara, 30, said that since joining Adaptations she no longer feels isolated, and Emanuel Frowner, 31, is happy that he can be himself “without being judged.” He has also been lucky romantically.

“I met a lady, named Cee Gee, who joined Adaptations in May of 2010, and now we are in a great relationship,” Frowner enthused.

“This is becoming a major focus in the field of autism spectrum disorders,” said Jill Brickman, a clinical psychologist with a private practice in midtown Manhattan. “People with autism have the same natural desire to be intimate as others, but they don’t have the social skills, which can be dangerous. They might try something that feels right to them, and then get arrested or be taken advantage of. Programs like these help these young people learn everything that’s involved in dating someone.”

Adaptations also partners with Job Path, a not-for-profit organization that enables people with developmental disabilities to find jobs. The program has started its own business venture, Adaptations Glassware Cooperative. The Brooklyn-based company trains employees to turn wine bottles into drinking glasses and has generated jobs for a number of Adaptations members.

One member, 39-year old Mark Dreyfus, has benefited from both the job assistance and dating aspects of the program. When he first joined, Dreyfus already had a job on Wall Street but couldn’t handle the stress of working with people, said Katrina Reese, Job Path’s assistant director of employment services. Through an individualized program, the Adaptations team found a work situation to address his needs. Today, he repairs computers in a quiet room of a Best Buy outlet while his co-workers deal with the customers at the front desk.

Dreyfus also found his fiancée at Adaptations. A wedding is planned for October at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale for Dreyfus and his fiancee, Judy Fettman.

Fettman herself did have one criticism of the workshops: She found them intellectually unstimulating. “I would like to see political talks and lectures,” she said.

Contact Rukhl Schaechter at schaechter@yiddish.forward.com. This article was adapted from the Forverts.


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