Last year a St. Louis teenager with Asperger’s syndrome reached out to a local occupational therapist with one request — help me learn to make friends, he asked. And that, she did.

A high school junior at the time, Joe Cassara recognized that he no longer knew how to connect with his peers. So Cassara contacted Jeanne Eichler, an occupational therapist at St. Louis University.

Impressed with his initiative, Eichler proceeded to work with a graduate student to develop a social skills program designed for Cessara and other teens like him.

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The result is a six-week program called “Teen Connection” that begins its fourth session next week. It brings together those with autism and college students who volunteer as role models to hold events like dances, pizza parties or trips to the zoo. Along the way, participants take on assignments designed to maximize their social skills such as asking a passerby to take their picture.

The program appears to be paying off. Some teen participants are now inviting friends over or going to school dances. For others, the process is still a slow one, but they say the social skills training is helping build confidence and inspiring them to keep trying, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. To read more click here.