Two local community service providers – Durham Mental Health Services (DMHS) and Kerry’s Place Autism Services – have partnered to provide a weekly support group for individuals with autism or autism-like disorders who experience social anxiety. The first series of weekly groups started in February 2014, was held at Kerry’s Place, and served five clients. The next set of groups began on November 14 and will run for 11 weeks at DMHS’ Administration Building (519 Brock Street South, Whitby, ON). There are seven people registered this time.
Susan Brooks-Frank, a DMHS Community Mental Health Worker, explains where the idea for the group came from. “I was inspired by a client who didn’t meet the criteria for autism-spectrum disorder but who suffered severe anxiety,” Susan says. “His anxiety was so severe that he was unable to access supports that were referred to him. There were no mainstream services that would support him because of his disability and he had not yet been approved for developmental services by Developmental Services Ontario (DSO). Even once he is approved by DSO to access supports for people with developmental disorders, the wait lists for these supports can be months, even years long.”
“I couldn’t accept that there wasn’t anything there for him for so long,” Susan says, “so I approached Kerry’s Place with a proposal to create together a Social Anxiety group based on a cognitive-behavioural treatment approach. They were very receptive to this proposal and over a process of about six months, the group took shape.”
The features of the group which make it work so well include the small group size, the supportive environment, the expert facilitation, and the fact that there are two facilitators, so that one can offer individual support while the other continues running the group.
As one of the facilitators of the first 12-week group – along with Tracy Spear, a counsellor with Kerry’s Place – Susan notes that “It was such a rush for me to watch people become stronger and feel more secure as human beings through their solidarity with the other group members. They see that it’s OK to be exactly who there are while they learn how to manage anxiety.”
Lisa Binns is Kerry’s Place’s Director of Community Supports for the East Region. Lisa says, “It was a great opportunity for Kerry’s Place to work with a mental health agency, DMHS, to support people with Aspersers Syndrome in dealing with their social anxiety. The results of the first group where remarkable. We ran a pre and a post test and everyone who participated in the group showed a marked improvement in their ability to deal with social anxiety. Giving the participants the tools to deal with anxiety can be life changing. It has been a great partnership with DMHS and we look forward to working together in the future.”