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How to help an autistic child make a best friend

Tuesday, February 1, 2011 FILED IN: News

Making and keeping friends are a big part of growing up. To some children, it comes easy and for some, especially children on the autism spectrum, it is very hard. How can parents help children with special needs such as autism make a best friend? The first challenge is finding an appropriate playdate and the second challenge is having a positive social experience during the playdate in which a friendship could develop.

XciteSteps, a private San Diego youth mentoring organization supporting children and teens with special needs, has developed a buddy support program called “coached playdates.” XciteSteps is known for its energetic and talented team of social, recreational and behavioral mentors and coaches. Using a big brother or sister mentoring approach, these mentors are able to engage children in a fun way while role modeling appropriate and positive social and friendship skills.

In a “coached playdate,” an XciteSteps mentor takes the child out with another peer to engage in fun social activities. The other child could be a classmate from school or another child in the XciteSteps program. Each playdate is planned to be a fun, engaging activity that both kids would enjoy doing. Planning the right activity is important because it will provide an environment with many social opportunities to have fun and build common bonds. During the activity, the mentor is there to stimulate or guide conversation, role model, coach positive friendship skills and make sure both kids or teens have a great time.

To find out more about XciteSteps, visit, e-mail or call program director Pamela Machala at (858) 703-7305.

— Stefan Hochfilzer is the executive director, Pamela Machala is the program director and Matthew Winkely is the owner of XciteSteps, which serves mainly La Jolla families and has many mentors living in La Jolla.

XciteSteps announces its new Artists’ Social Club. Working together with ReGallery in Solana Beach, organizers have come up with an art program that provides opportunities for expression, socialization and building self-esteem. During the eight-week program, an instructor will teach art techniques while XciteSteps social coaches will support students and promote the social experience of the club. At the end of the program, the students will plan and host their own art show at the gallery.

Start date: Feb. 9

Time: Wednesdays, 4 to 6 p.m.

Sign-up deadline: Feb. 1

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