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Autistic kids practice social skills at the bowling alley

Kids with autism struggle with reading non-verbal cues, like facial expressions. They also have a tough time knowing the right words to say. That’s why there are social skills clubs for kids with autism.


One such club meets regularly at Bel-Mark Lanes in Ann Arbor. There are three different groups based on age, and this particular group includes kids in junior high and high school.

After a little bowling, and cheering each other on, everybody heads back to a side room.

Ben Darragh, a speech and language pathologist with the Ann Arbor schools, created the club. Once everyone settles down at a table, he begins with a check-in.

Everyone gets a small sheet of paper. It’s got a list of friendly things you can do, like “sitting with kids at lunch” or “talking with someone, back-and-forth, for 2-to-4 turns.” The four teen boys in the group all share what they did in the past week.

One boy, AJ, is already thinking ahead to next week.“What I’d like to improve on is to talk to someone for more than five turns, I guess.” Darragh says that’s a great goal.

This group is about practicing basic social skills and learning to build and maintain friendships, according to Darragh.

Colleen Allen says these groups are essential for kids with autism. She’s the director of the Center for Autism & Developmental Disabilities in the Henry Ford Health System. She also says they’re most effective when they take place out in the real world and not in a controlled setting. Allen says when autistic kids don’t learn social skills, they get even more isolated and that can lead to depression and anxiety.

Susin Tello’s son Mohammad is part of the bowling club. She says she’s seen improvements in her son’s social interactions since he joined the group. Tello also says watching her son interact so casually with the other kids in the group gives her a sense of hope about Mohammad’s future.


For more information about the group:

Ben Darragh
Speech Language Pathologist

Kyle Norris is from Michigan and spent ten years as a host and reporter with Michigan Radio, the state’s largest NPR-affiliate. He lives in Seattle and works as a substitute host and producer at KNKX.
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