Making A Difference For Young Adults With Autism

This story, written by Abbie Richert, was originally published in Plateau Living (April 2017) with a similar article in Madison Park Living (April 2017). You can find local copies in Sammamish or Madison Valley (Seattle). It is reprinted here with permission from the author.

For young adults with autism, visibility and acceptance in the community are cornerstones of their personal and professional growth. Yet, there’s an overall lack of resources to support these young adults as they navigate life after high school. That’s where Delphi Young Adults comes in—a program that offers critical support during this transition period.

A local non-profit called Ryther, which provides psychiatric and behavioral health services for children and their families facing complex challenges started Delphi Young Adults. Ben Wahl, Program Director of Ryther’s Aspiring Youth Program said for autistic young adults, “The 18-24 age range is so important because it’s kind of that point at which they can go either way: they can get stuck and isolated, or become a part of the community.”

“We are really seeking to have community for young adults,” Ben said. “When they are school aged kids and around their peers, it’s about building skills. They didn’t always thrive socially at school, but at least they had that opportunity. But when they hit 18 they don’t.” They lose a built-in community, which is why Delphi Young Adults is desperately needed.

This year, Ryther will officially launch Delphi Young Adults. Parts of the program such as the Delphi Social Club, Workspace (group work projects) and a seminar project called Life 101 are already in the works. Whereas, a project called The Commons (residential living) should fall into place in the near future.

The program’s backbone is built on the Delphi Social Club, which seeks to build community through planned social outlets. Ben said the Delphi Social Club is “A place to come together over shared interests.” The groups do anything from bowling to karaoke to indoor rock climbing. A secondary focus of the social program is identity building. “We like the term neuro-diverse,” Ben said. It’s a little broader and not, ‘hey, I’m going to this bowling thing because I’ve been diagnosed with autism,’ it’s just, ‘I’m quirky.’” Ben added that, “The Delphi Social Club has it’s own website.” Equipped with have interactive online circles, social club goers can contribute stories, video game reviews and more, and communicate about events taking place in the community. “It’s a way for them to connect, and it’s way better than Facebook.”

Ben also said a number of young adults want to get involved on a deeper level. Rather than simply attending an event, they want to be a part of building and running it, which is why Workspace was created. Workspace is “A weekly group; they work on different projects and ideas, and right now they are working on the Delphi Social Club website.”

The coaching aspect of Delphi focuses on helping the young person navigate community college. “It’s a little bit like therapy, but coaching is a little more concrete,” Ben said. “We are not taking a psychological approach, but more of, ‘Are we are keeping track of community college assignments?’ ‘Are we budgeting?’ ‘Are we building independent living skills?’ That’s really important because a lot of my folks are employable and smart and very loyal and trustworthy.” Coaching goes hand and hand with Delphi’s Life 101 project. Ben said Life 101 is all about ‘adulting.’ They hold seminars focused on money management, cooking, dating, jobs, health and wellness.

At Delphi, overall wellness, independent living skills and social skills are competencies seen as important as being employable. “One of our outputs involves independence, Ben said. “If that involves a job, then by all means, but maybe it’s a slower progression. But it’s important that we continue to provide community.”

Delphi also plans to provide support through a program called The Commons, which Ben said is “A supportive dorm type situation, sort of a co-op.” Delphi is looking toward the model of micro-housing and is currently in talks with Neiman Taber Architects to obtain four units in their micro-housing buildings for young adults with autism. Although it’s a huge aspiration, they are hoping it will come together within the year.

Delphi brings the topic of community inclusion to the table. “We are really learning how to reach out to them and make them visible,” Ben said. “Working with young adults is really interesting. With young adults it becomes a broader initiative; between 18-24 if they’re involved in the community, if they’re gaining skills they’re going to integrate and will go on this path of being part of the community.”

Ben has worked with many young adults across the Plateau and encourages the community to continually stay involved. This summer, in partnership with R.E.I., he plans to lead trail building and restoration groups in Fall City, which is a great and nearby opportunity for Sammamish residents.

 For more information on Delphi Young Adults visit or call 206.517.0241.

Activity League: Bowling | A sports league for quirky kids.

Join us this spring for the 5-week Aspiring Youth Activity League! Sports offer a unique opportunity for our students to develop in both body and mind, as they work to build their athletic abilities as well as the nuanced social skills needed to form a cohesive team. The Activity League brings Aspiring Youth’s social skills curriculum to the playfield, providing a new learning environment for students to improve their communication, friendships, teamwork, and self-confidence!

Bowling Club: Players develop social and athletic skills, good sportsmanship, and a sense of belonging to a team as they prepare for the Championship Game.

Join us for FIVE WEEKS of the Aspiring Youth Activity League!

  •  Location: Kenmore Lanes, 7638 NE  Bothell Way Kenmore, WA 98028

  •  Dates: Each Saturday from Mar 4 to April 1, 2017

  • Time: 3:00pm – 4:15pm

  • Fee: $275 for five weeks ($75 if already enrolled in another group).

  • Shuttle: Optional shuttle from Ryther leaving at 2:30pm and returning at 4:45pm for pick-up. Parents not using the shuttle will drop-off at 3pm and pick-up at 4:15pm from Kenmore Lanes.

Contact us for more information on enrolling.

Introducing Magic Mondays!

Group members work on communication skills while playing Magic: The Gathering (card game) in a facilitated setting. Our group facilitators make sure that there is productive conversation during the game and that group members learn about being a good sport win or lose.

Ages 8-18. Group members bring their own decks.


Seattle: Mondays | Co-ed | 5:45-7pm | 1/23 – 4/3 (except 2/20)

Winter break camps: Fun. Social skills. Field trips. Hot chocolate.

ddAn ongoing tradition, winter break camp is a fun opportunity to connect with friends while pursuing games, activities and excursions. Our master’s level counselors make sure that winter break is a place for students to recharge while building social skills and confidence.

Mornings: Students select from their favorite activities:

  • Outdoor games and the Challenge Course

  • Board games, Magic the Gathering or D&D

  • Legos and K’nex

  • Comedy Improv, Art and Movement

bowlingAfternoon field trips to the movies, Kenmore bowling lanes and the Seattle Pinball Museum – for no additional fee! (Field trips are optional if child prefers not to go)

Sign up now on our website!

Ages: Explorers (ages 8-10), Navigators (ages 10-12), Teen Crew (ages 13-15) and Delphi (ages 15-19). Siblings are welcome!

Location: Ryther @ 2400 NE 95th St, Seattle, WA 98115

Dates: December 19, 20, 21 and December 28, 29, 30

Time: 9:30am to 3:30pm each day

 Fee: $100 per day with a two-day minimum enrollment

105-Aspiring-Candids-Web (1)Snacks will be provided. Students bring lunch from home. Personal electronic gaming devices are not appropriate.

Participants: We welcome students ages 8 and up who benefit from a small group environment. Some are shy, some are quirky, and some are twice exceptional. Some of our campers have a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, autism, learning disabilities or similar traits.

School year programs now enrolling

105-Aspiring-Candids-Web (1)Enrollment opens for social skills groups

UPDATED: Enroll now through our website in Aspiring Youth’s Social Skills Groups!

Beginning in early October, our master’s level facilitators help participants identify and practice new skills, establish friendships and boost self-esteem.


New to Aspiring Youth social skills groups? Schedule your enrollment meeting.

  • AGE-BASED GROUPS: Topic-driven discussion ● Reinforcing games and activities ● Groups available for ages 8 to 19.

  • THEME-BASED GROUPS: Social skills curriculum through shared interest activities such as art, Dungeons & Dragons, rock climbing and more!

142-Aspiring-Candids-WebStart off strong this school year

In your home setting, individual coaching improves executive functioning, social skills, communication, conflict resolution, self-moderation of screen time and other similar areas.

Offered throughout the school year, we collaborate with therapists and psychologists to reinforce office sessions. 

Contact us to schedule a free initial assessment.


Aspiring Youth provides innovative social skills groups, summer camps, tutoring and other services for students ages 8 and up in Seattle, Bellevue, Renton, Bainbridge Island, Kirkland and the surrounding areas.

Some of our students are shy, some are quirky and some are twice exceptional. Many have a diagnosis of Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, ADHD, learning disabilities or other similar traits.

Emotion Regulation: The Key to Adequate Socializing

2105532204_3eacd04af5_zMany of the kids we work with struggle with regulating their emotions.

Inadequate emotion regulation can look different depending on the child and the situation. Often, we see kids get frustrated with a situation or peer. Sometimes kids may act out, throwing a tantrum, calling names or crying. Other times, we see them internalize their emotions by shutting down. Or even getting overly silly, like hysterically laughing or having a hard time focusing.

These types of behaviors in the classroom are often addressed as “behavior problems,” which they are. However, they also seriously impact a child’s ability to have successful relationships. Parents long for their child to have friends and want to know how friendships are going after camp or group, but it’s important to remember that without adequately regulating emotional responses, it’s difficult for a child to make friends.

What does emotion regulation look like?

Emotion regulation is the ability to cope with situations that illicit an emotional response from a person.

It could be that a friend doesn’t want to play a favorite game – or at all. Sometimes it’s a change in a routine. While these situations cause an emotional reaction in all of us, there is an expected and unexpected emotional response. According to Michelle Garcia Winner, an expected response is how others expect us to respond while an unexpected response is a response that is unexpected of us given the situation.

Oftentimes, children and teens who struggle with emotion regulation have unexpected responses. Our responses in these situations are indicative of our ability to control our emotions. is this important for my child to make friends?

There are two keys reasons why emotion regulation is crucial for making friends.

  1. Tantruming, yelling, hyperactivity and withdrawal are competing problem behaviors as they all compete with acquiring or using appropriate social skills. For example, if a child is overly excited and cannot attend an event, he cannot learn how to get attention from peers in a positive way. If he is throwing a tantrum, this is interfering with his use of appropriately communicating feelings.

  2. Emotion regulation demonstrates that you are taking other peoples’ perspective. While it’s completely appropriate to feel frustrated or upset, how we act upon those feelings shows how we have considered the thoughts and feelings of those around us. The goal of social interactions is to have people thinking about us the way we want them to.

soccer-1341849_1280 (2)For example, when a child loses a game and engages in unexpected behavior like a tantrum, what might others be thinking? Most would probably think “Gosh, he doesn’t have good sportsmanship. I don’t think I’ll play a game with him next time”.

Tackling emotion regulation can be a challenging task. There are different coping strategies like taking a few deep breaths, practicing mindfulness, taking a walk or a break, or counting to 10 before responding.

Working on emotion regulation with your child is crucial for him or her to have successful social relationships.

Breea. M. Rosas, Ed.S. graduated from Central Washington University with a Bachelor of Arts in 2013. Her undergraduate major was Psychology, with a minor in Family Studies. She completed her Educational Specialist degree in School Psychology from CWU in 2016. She is currently a school psychologist for Federal Way Public Schools. Breea has worked with Aspiring Youth as a program coordinator/facilitator for summer camps and served on the curriculum development team. Additionally, Breea has experience working with adults of varying abilities, including autism spectrum disorder, as well youth in the school setting.

Announcing: Bainbridge Island Summer Camps!

New location on Bainbridge Island at Strawberry Hill Park!

In our traditional camps we offer exciting activity choices from Legos to art to nature hikes. With these incredible enrichment activities as a foundation, our master’s level counselors help campers build confidence and connect to new friends.

Social Growth Topics

We work with parents and campers to formulate individualized social learning goals such as: Conversation initiation, flexibility, leadership, sharing ideas, sustaining conversations, self-identity, teamwork, independence skills, long-term goal setting, assertive communication, emotional regulation, personal wellness, and more.

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Enroll now

Cost: $500 per week

Time: Camp runs Monday – Thursday, 9:30am – 3:30pm

Bainbridge Island Camp Dates:

  • Week of 7/18

  • Week of 7/25

  • Week of 8/1

Age groups: 

  • Navigators (ages 10-12)

  • Teen Crew (ages 13-15)

  • Delphi (ages 15-19)

We engage in outdoor games, field trips and other group activities to propel social growth. Through weekly habitat restoration projects, campers build confidence and teamwork while earning a $15 weekly internship stipend. Campers choose from additional activities such as indoor rock climbing, Parkour, therapy dogs, swimming, Museum of Flight, guided nature tours, comedy improv games, art, and many more.

Enroll now

Our Campers

We welcome campers ages 8 and up who benefit from a small group environment. Some are shy, some are quirky, and some are twice exceptional. Some of our campers have a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, autism, learning disabilities, or other similar traits.

About Aspiring Youth

  • Nationally accredited, innovative program serving families since 2004

  • Dynamic master’s level professionals with a 4:1 camper ratio

  • Social skills growth through small group check-ins

  • Sustainable friendships through year-round social skills groups and alumni events

  • Free enrollment meeting with clinical coordinators to ensure group fit and identify goals

  • Connect through weekly parent groups and receive updates on your child’s progress

Achievement unlocked: relationship

With a lot of the teenage guys with whom I work, dating is a serious goal and a serious headache. Most of them have a lot of misperceptions about what it takes to—in their words–“get a girlfriend.” There are many misperceptions about this process—and it is a process…an ongoing one. My hope is that teenagers (and parents) walk away with a few tips on how to approach dating—whether it’s a boyfriend or girlfriend being sought.

It’s a process, not a destination

joystick-1216816_1280The most common misconception that I encounter seems to be the idea that a girlfriend/boyfriend is a prize awarded, as if one were playing a video game and finding this elusive, magical unicorn called “girlfriend” somehow gives one enough experience points to attain a new social level (this is a gamer thing—ask your kids).

You can hear this in how the guys with whom I work talk and strategize: “How do I get a girlfriend if I like Dungeons & Dragons?” or, “Do girls like guys who are smart or dumb?” and even, “Should I have six pack abs? Will that work?”

Additionally, we often talk about how much work it is to maintain a romantic relationship. This is difficult as teens often don’t think further than “Girlfriend Achievement: Unlocked,” and when they do talk about it, it’s often about what they can do to keep a girlfriend: “I can buy her gifts,” or, “I will need to take her on a lot of dates, right?”

The problem assumptions

There are a few problems with the above mentality:

  • It assumes that people are not independent, but machines where one may press certain buttons or pull certain levers to achieve a desired outcome.

  • It assumes there are universal answers to what people find attractive. Yes, there are certain things that people tend to find attractive (confidence and authenticity often being two biggies)—but it varies from person to person.

  • It assumes that the teen, as a pursuer, is somehow owed a relationship if they do all the right things.

These are problematic—especially when the last assumption is violated. The guys can become creepy or occasionally scary that their advances were denied. To make things more difficult, dating today has less overt rules (such as not using titles like “boyfriend/girlfriend” or “relationship”), which can be antithetical to the rigid way teens who need help with social skills think.

What can be done?

relationship-1261216_1280First, I teach my social skills clients that they need to change how they think, starting with the following rules:

  • A girlfriend is not an achievement. She is a person with the same independence, rights and feelings as you.

  • She doesn’t owe you anything—even if you’re being nice to her. (Additionally, if you’re being “nice” to only get something, that really isn’t very nice.)

  • Developing a relationship is not that different than making a normal, platonic friendship. You need to get to know the other person buy engaging in small talk and responding to their verbal and nonverbal cues. You need to learn about common interests so that the relationship can deepen.

  • Despite what some websites tell you, there is no one formula of behavior to “get a girlfriend” because every person is different.

  • You have to learn to fail and get rejected (and coping with rejection is a learned skill) in order to develop a socializing style that is authentic for you.

  • You need to learn to enjoy the process of getting to know people.

  • Be willing to walk away from the relationship if you don’t have things in common.

These rules add up to one thing: flexibly enjoying the process of getting to know someone.

Ideally, it should be like a good video game. Your focus should be about the person and the process, not just the end result or achievement. You should enjoy the journey of getting there—if the ending is good, that’s wonderful!

What else is out there?

If you are looking for other resources, or if you have concerns about your (or your child’s) dating skills or approach, I recommend the Aspiring Youth individual social skills coaches. This is a great topic to discuss with us, and one we enjoy helping our teenage and young adult clients with.

Other than that, I tend to recommend author Harris O’Malley, better known by his screen name Dr. NerdLove. Aside from his brilliant blog, he has books on dating, including:

What I definitely don’t recommend are any websites or books written by those in the “pickup artist” (PUA) community. Don’t even look at PUA websites (visiting gives them web traffic and, consequentially, income)—they tend to objectify and dehumanize women to a frightening degree, and that’s no way to learn about and enjoy the process of building relationships.

R BoccamazzoR. Boccamazzo, PsyD, LMHCA

Dr. Boccamazzo is a doctor of clinical psychology and social skills coach with Aspiring Youth. In addition, he is the clinical director of, a national nonprofit focused on mental health and the gamer community, runs a private psychology practice in Bellevue offering individual therapy and psychological assessment to adolescents and adults, and provides parent and clinician trainings on technology in psychology. Much of his work focuses on high functioning autism, problematic technology usage, social anxiety, trauma and games. In his spare time, he enjoys acting, cooking, board games and video games.

Social media and teens

Social networking has become a big part of how we keep in contact with family and friends. It allows us to share ideas and connect with people. Given that the cyber world can also be daunting, parents tend to breathe a sigh of relief when their teen has little interest in creating a Facebook account.

technology-785742_1280My brother, who will be 14 years old soon, likes Minecraft and Legos and learning about planets. Facebook isn’t near the top of his interests list. What would someone who avoids social interactions and prefers to spend his time alone get out of creating a Facebook account? Actually, a lot.

He’s missing out on being a part of our family Facebook page and messaging with our grandma. He doesn’t get the opportunity to connect with peers from his school, which is one way adolescents form connections with one another. Social networking has become a critical component of teen and young adult social life.

Yes: it can be scary thinking that our teen is going to be joining the online social world. Especially those who already have a difficult time navigating social environments. So how can we be sure that our teen knows how to safely and effectively interact online?

Teaching the hidden rules of social networking, from The Hidden Curriculum (Myles, Trautman, & Schelvan, 2013).

Social networking comes with a whole set of hidden rules. They may seem obvious to us, but keep in mind that our teens may need them explicitly taught them – just like we teach appropriate social skills in situations like school and in public Have your teen develop a list of safe behaviors online to understand his or her knowledge.


  • Only connect with friends you know and trust

  • Keep personal information private or do no include it

  • Never agree to meet up with someone from the Internet without talking to your parents about it first

  • Do not talk to people online whom you do not know

Social interactions

  • Your social media connections can see eveyrthing you post

  • Don’t post anything if you are feeling angry, upset, sad or overwhelmed. Wait until you’ve calmed down to post something, think carefully and have a parent or trusted adult read it beforehand

  • A Facebook friend is not necessarily a real friend

  • Online posts can never be taken back – even if you delete it, it can be saved by others.

Social media is just one aspect of social interactions that can be important. Be sure to discuss the risks and benefits of social media with your teen and encourage him or her to safely connect with others online if you think its right for your teen.

Breea. M. Rosas, B.A., Ed. S. Candidate

Breea graduated from Central Washington University with a Bachelor of Arts in 2013. Her undergraduate major was Psychology, with a minor in Family Studies. She completed the coursework for an Educational Specialist degree in School Psychology in Spring 2015, with an anticipated graduation date of Spring 2016 upon the completion of an internship with the Franklin Pierce School District. Professionally, Breea has worked with Aspiring Youth as a lead facilitator for summer camp and served on the curriculum development team. Additionally, Breea has experience working with adults of varying abilities, including autism spectrum disorder, as well youth in the school setting.

Dungeons & Dragons & Social skills

What is Dungeons & Dragons? Why does Aspiring Youth use it in one of our social skills groups? And why is it one of our most popular groups?

While some of our students’ parents have played it themselves, many don’t really know what it’s all about. Read on if you’re either unfamiliar with the game or how we use it.

rpg-468917_1280The game

Dungeons & Dragons (or D&D) is the best-known table top role playing game in the world. It has been around since the early 1970s, though it has changed and evolved over time. The basic concept is fairly simple. Each player has information about a customized character, and the leader (or Dungeon Master) is essentially a combination of narrator and referee. She or he tells an imaginary story while the players decide how their characters interact within that story – and act it out.

The game evolves each week and takes on the personality of the group as players progress and encounter consequences. Some games are serious or cartoonish. Some are filled with diplomacy and intrigue, or with epic battles that the characters race to stop. All require collaboration and symbiosis between the players and the leader.

Why use it for social skills?

Role playing has been used by mental health clinicians for decades to help people rehearse interpersonal interactions and coping strategies. When moderated by professionals, D&D can serve the same function.

Aspiring Youth social skills groups (the first in Washington to use D&D in an organized way) accomplishes these same goals:

  • Players think about how someone else would act through coaching and creating a (generally prosocial) character whose motivations and personality are different.

  • They have to mimic the behavior and words of that type of person.WP_20160328_003

  • The game provides a safe, flexible framework in which a person can practice those social skills.

  • What’s more, the players are rewarded with in-game prizes for successfully doing so.

In addition to that, we often co-facilitate the game to track player’s behaviors. With a white board, we visibly tally various behaviors such as raising one’s hand and waiting to speak versus disruptively talking out of turn. We also track whether a player is ready on his or her turn or there is a delay in the game due to the player being distracted. The target behaviors are collectively rewarded with in-game points and the opposite behaviors are penalized. The peer pressure to exhibit target behaviors for rewards (and avoiding penalties) leads to significant improvement.

How parents can help

How can you support your student’s efforts? Here are five tips to practice in your home:

  1. Basics: Learn about his or her character and the motivations that drive the character. Ask about personality, class/job, race, physical skills – learn all you can.

  1. 14543462957_c0a257e3ef_zMotivations: While you may not understand at first (What is a lawful good, dwarf knight who wants to bring justice to the world?), all of these details such as morality and background impact how a character would act in a given situation. Coach your student on how that type of person might act. That’s what we want the players to think about.

  1. Reviewing the rules: If your student doesn’t have answers about his or her character, it’s probably time to read the rule book a little better, which you can do together.

  1. What’s new: Ask about new developments each week. Players love to talk about their experiences. Maybe the character succeeded at a seemingly impossible feat and saved the day! Or perhaps, the character is trapped and in need of rescuing by the party.

  1. Check in with us! Stop inside when picking up your student and chat with us, the facilitators. While teens might groan a bit, this is a great way to catch up on behavior goals among parents, students and facilitators.

Hopefully, this gives you some tips and a better idea of how Aspiring Youth brings growth to students’ social skills in a dynamic, captivating and unique way. If you have any questions, please visit our website or call 206.517.0241.

Our Spring 2016 Dungeons & Dragons social skills group meets Tuesdays in Seattle and Fridays in Bellevue.

If you liked this article, please check out our how board games can also become a valuable way to teach or reinforce skills.

R BoccamazzoR. Boccamazzo, PsyD, LMHCA

Dr. Boccamazzo is a doctor of clinical psychology and social skills coach with Aspiring Youth. In addition, he is the clinical director of, a national nonprofit focused on mental health and the gamer community, runs a private psychology practice in Bellevue offering individual therapy and psychological assessment to adolescents and adults, and provides parent and clinician trainings on technology in psychology. Much of his work focuses on high functioning autism, problematic technology usage, social anxiety, trauma and games. In his spare time, he enjoys acting, cooking, board games and video games.

Photo credit: D&D characters