Yachad course focuses on relationship building
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Yachad course focuses on relationship building

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Yachad participants and high school students enjoy one of the many activities coordinated by the special needs program. Courtesy Yachad

Successful communication – knowing how to relate to others – comes easily to some, harder to others. Not surprising, it may be especially hard for people with learning, communication, and social needs.

In 2001 Yachad created the “Relationship Building Course” to address this problem.

The group, an agency of the Orthodox Union, has now expanded that course, offering a six-semester program targeting basic social skills. Participants may graduate into an advanced socialization program after three to four years.

“If we want to help people with developmental disabilities lead more successful lives, we have to teach them how to relate to others,” said Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman, Yachad’s national director. He noted that RBC was created when a number of older Yachad members said that they were interested in getting married.

“Before they get to an intimate relationship, they need to learn the foundational social skills for successful communication,” he said.

Since its founding, the program “has helped scores of individuals with developmental disabilities become more proficient at forging lasting friendships and improving their performance at work,” Lichtman said.

Chani Herrmann, Yachad’s New Jersey director, said that the local group has been coordinating the RBC program for the last six years, and approximately 15 young adults participate each semester. Social work interns from various accredited schools of social work staff the groups, and Herrman supervises them.

“Often, young adults with certain challenges do not pick up on social cues and therefore need step-by-step guidance in approaching certain things,” Herrmann said. For example, “How do you introduce yourself to someone new? What kinds of topics can you talk about with someone you have just met?”

She noted that participants introduce a variety of questions during the program.

“Our clients raise issues such as living in a group home and feelings of independence, difficulties getting along with others, making friends, and where they can go to meet new people,” she said. In addition, they “often discuss their hopes for the future and the dreams that they have.”

She noted that “teaching them about personal space and boundaries is a key component of the program. Using the Circles Program, we teach the clients who the people are in their lives and where they fall in ‘their circle.’ This allows us to talk to them further about who is important to them, who is a friend, and who is a stranger. Once we help them identify those things, we can explore boundaries.”

For the first time this year, classes will be offered in Cedarhurst as well as Brooklyn and Teaneck. The Teaneck course began on Oct. 22.

Herrmann said that the RBC curriculum has been updated to meet the needs of those clients who have already completed the beginning course and now can move up to the next level.”

An OU statement noted that beginners, intermediate, and advanced classes will run concurrently at each location so that participants of varying social-skills experience can join RBC at the start of each semester and be placed in the group most appropriate to their needs.

The six-semester course includes segments on relationships, beginning communication and conversation skills, understanding social cues, advanced communication and social media skills (for example, differentiating between private and public topics of conversation; learning appropriate written expression via social media, email, phone, and text messages), advanced social cues, and self-advocacy.

Next winter, the course will add a dating and marriage curriculum. RBC will also introduce Chaverim, a new division that includes individuals across the autistic spectrum.

For more information about Yachad or RBC, call Chani Herrmann at (212) 613-8373 or email her at Herrmann@ou.org.

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