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.

Delphi Young Adults upcoming programs

Young adults want to succeed. We provide the guidance.

Delphi is for young adults, ages 18-28, who have Autism, ADHD or other similar traits.

Delphi Workspace

Delphi Workspace gives young adults the chance to connect with a peer community while pursuing real-world projects. Participants select project roles based on interest and work in small teams — also with informal time for socializing.

wire-bound-pad.jpgWe also offer independent study to work on a project, job search or college homework assignment.

Delphi Workspace participants can receive 1:1 adviser time, offering guidance on topics: job search/resume, health and wellness, money management and independent living skills.

  • When: Mondays and Wednesdays

  • Time: 12:00 – 3:00pm

  • Where: Ryther, 2400 NE 95th St, Seattle, 98115

  • No fee! Delphi Workspace is in pilot phase.

Come one or both days! No need to RSVP. For questions, contact

Delphi Social Clubs

Delphi Social Clubs are a great weekend hang-out for young adults, ages 21-28. Come to hang out and meet some awesome people. We will have some fun social card games, too. One of our coaches will be there to make sure everyone is having a great time. When you arrive, look for our “Delphi Young Adults” sign at the large table.

  • When: Saturday, Nov 5, 20 and Dec 10

  • Time: 4:00-6:00pm

  • Where: Pub at Montlake at 2307 24th Ave E in Seattle

  • No fee! Bring money for food and beverages. 

A big thanks to Pub at Montlake for their commitment to creating an inclusive environment.

No need to RSVP. For questions, contact


Summer fun for young adults: biking and climbing!

Late summer is a great time to get active — whether outside or inside! Join Aspiring Youth for one or all of our activities geared toward young adults with any ability level.


Learn how to climb and make new friends at Seattle Bouldering Project. An Aspiring Youth facilitator will be present to help guide this informal evening. Pizza and beer afterwards!

  • When: August 20 and 27, September 10, 17 and 24

  • Time: 4:30-6:30pm

  • Where: Seattle Bouldering Project



A day of cycling around Magnuson Park is a great way to build confidence, try a new experience and establish relationships. Join Aspiring Youth and Outdoors for All for both of these exciting outings!

  • When: August 27 and September 2

  • Time: 12:30-4:30pm

  • Where: Meet at Ryther, 2400 NE 95th St in Seattle

  • Bicycles are provided!


Through our eyes: Becoming an adult

The “Through our eyes” series invites you to hear and learn from the perspectives of young adults in our community living with autism, Asperger’s, ADHD, learning disabilities or other social challenges.

I am twenty three years old as of this post. I am currently an intern at Ryther working alongside the Video Production and Building & Inventing camps, the team running the blog and many other staff members. In the short time that I have been an adult, I have noticed some things about myself that are different than from when I was younger, aside from the obvious things (old enough to drink, vote etc.).

In middle and most of high school, I was sort of shy and was embarrassed about myself and the things I liked. I was afraid that people would pick on me because of my rather narrowed interests. When I was younger, video game and anime enthusiasts seemed to get picked on a lot. I was also a lot less sociable when it came to other kids, and when I did socialize, it was clear that I was very awkward.

Now that I’m older, I find it easier to socialize with people and be more open with myself. However, there are times where I feel my “inner aspie” slip out, and I seem extremely awkward to other people. There are also times when I’m not really sure what to do in a social situation, so I always find myself winging it. So far, I haven’t been yelled at, so it must be working. The motor-sensory side of my Asperger’s has been pretty much the same throughout the years (ex. wool makes my skin feel itchy, dance clubs are too noisy, etc.).

The bottom line is: because I’ve gotten older and have gained a bit more experience in life, I feel a lot more confident about myself.

Sara Breidenbach is an intern helping with Aspiring Youth summer camps. She is also a student at Bellevue College where she will graduate with an Associates Degree in Digital Media Arts in the fall of 2016.

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.

Transitions: Optimizing life as an adult with autism

A talk with Dr. Gary StobbeCapture

As individuals with autism age into adulthood, many new barriers emerge than interfere with success, happiness, and accessing the community as an adult. To better understand these barriers and to better identify opportunities to promote successful transition to adulthood, Dr. Stobbe will review what is currently known about the autism trajectory, co-occuring medical and mental health conditions, and the balance of assisting our loved ones while at the same time promoting their independence.

Light refreshments served. Click here to RSVP.


About Dr. Gary Stobbe

Dr. Stobbe is a Board Certified Neurologist sub-specializing in the field of cognitive and behavioral neurology. Dr. Stobbe joined the University of Washington School of Medicine faculty in 2008 and is Clinical Assistant Professor of both Psychiatry and Neurology, specializing in autism spectrum disorders, multiple sclerosis, and traumatic brain injury. In 2009, Dr. Stobbe helped establish the Seattle Children’s Autism Center, and currently serves as Director of Adolescent and Adult Services. Dr. Stobbe also helped establish the UW Medicine Adult Autism Clinic and is currently serving as Medical Director, and is the Director of the Adults and Elders Program at the University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities at UW. Research experience includes numerous medication treatment clinical trials in autism as well as heath care systems and delivery.

Suggested reading: Roux, A.M., Shattuck, P.T., Rast, J. E., Rava, J. A., and Anderson, K.A. (2015). National Autism Indicators Report: Transition into Young Adulthood. Philadelphia, PA: Life Course Outcomes Research Program, A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, Drexel University.