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Current Programs & Services

The Girls Night Out (GNO) Program is a community-based initiative to promote social-emotional health through social competence and self-care skill development for girls and young women with autism and related disabilities.

The initiative includes direct services such as 12-week targeted skills intervention groups as well as single-session community events. GNO skills groups follow a curriculum that incorporates evidence-based instructional strategies to enhance social-communication skills and promote positive social-emotional health. The curriculum focuses on three areas: relationship building, self-care skills (e.g., personal hygiene,  positive emotional and behavioral practices), and promoting self-determination and individual autonomy.

We build/coordinate strategic opportunities for successful practice across many levels(e.g., people, activities, settings) and tailor the intervention to help girls meet individualized goals. As participants experience success and develop greater confidence and competence, this aim ultimately enhances social awareness and self-perception. By increasing competence and confidence in these areas, the GNO program aims to help develop a “social buffer” against symptoms of social anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders.

Girls completing GNO make significant improvements in their social competence, global self-worth, and perceived quality of life, and experience less symptoms of anxiety and depression.  So far, GNO is the only intervention program designed specifically to address the unique social and self-care needs of adolescent females with autism. Current program activities and supports are based on input from participants and families that completed GNO skills groups, which is utilized to inform program growth. See more information below about skills groups and opportunities for parent connection. 

Groups of 8 to 12 adolescent girls (ages 14 to 19) with and without autism and related disabilities complete the GNO curriculum through 12 weekly 2-hour sessions. These sessions take place within community settings (e.g., restaurant, coffee shop, hair salon, fitness center), selected to promote authentic practice opportunities to build independence and target social and self-care skills. 

GNO skills groups include girls without disabilities as trained peer volunteers to help create social opportunities and model skills and supports; but more importantly to be a part of a positive support network for girls and young women of all abilities! We facilitate both peers and participants to work with each other to demonstrate healthy and genuine social interactions, relate to each other, engage in meaningful connections, and utilize GNO supports together to achieve individualized goals because we ALL have things to work on. Peer volunteers receive training prior to identified sessions with the intent of creating specific roles related to modeling skills and help create purposeful opportunities for successful practice of skills.

Peers and participants are a critical component to the GNO program. We practice and build off social skills and self-care skills each week. Each session follows a similar format with a detailed outline describing peer training, community partner training (if applicable), session goals, strategies and supports to enhance skills and promote generalization, facilitator roles and responsibilities, and checks to ensure interventions are followed accurately. Facilitators tailor individualized coaching and provide specific, in-the-moment feedback based on participant goals.  Personalized supports are provided strategically within each participant’s GNO materials (e.g., booklet, self-monitoring checklists, conversation cards). We strive to make GNO a positive experience and beneficial for ALL participants.

Groups of 6-8 girls (ages 10-13) with and without autism and related disabilities. GNO-JR is a recent effort to expand the age range of girls participating in the program with the intention of facilitating social skills and contextually fit self-care skills before adolescence.

Skills Groups occur weekly across 8-10 sessions and take place in a variety of authentic settings as well. The structure is like GNO-Teen in format and implementation of core strategies and supports. The GNO-JR. curriculum targets building competence in reciprocal social interactions (joining school-age activities and conversation), relating to same age peers (identifying interests and common ground), breaking down the steps involved in making plans (with whom and how), and setting individualized goals.

GNO community events are designed to build networks and provide recurring opportunities for social interactions. Community events are less structured compared to skills groups yet include critical components and instructional strategies (i.e., live coaching and feedback, visual supports for conversation, reinforcement system) and take place within settings that promote natural, authentic practice.

We initiated community events in response to the needs and actions of our GNO community. Following GNO skills groups, families asked “now what”, inquiring about participation in another skills group and ongoing social opportunities for continued interaction with other GNO girls. Community events are open to past, present or future GNO participants ranging in age from 10 to 28 years old.  As GNO has evolved, organic opportunities for connection have flourished. In 2014, our families coined the term “GNO-Alumni”, recruiting families from active skills groups to stay connected and participate in alumni or community events and planning activities on their own. GNO Alumni have organized events including: 8-week yoga class, horseback riding and picnic at a local ranch, pool party, graduation celebrations, birthdays, and several holiday events!

Caregivers share personal experiences, find a sense of belonging and comfort, and support each other. They too have opportunities to connect while their girls are building social skills, self-confidence and independence.

Activities promote a culturally responsive family approach, which recognizes a diversified range of life experiences and viewpoints that GNO supports. Parents from both single-parent and dual-parent households have opportunities to practice self-care within this evolving network. There is a strong level of parent involvement to build from and celebrate. Activities include guest speakers or resources around topics identified by parents or less structured events focused on parent connections and support.

School of Medicine

University of Kansas Medical Center
Department of Pediatrics
Mail Stop 4004
3901 Rainbow Boulevard
Kansas City, KS 66160
Phone: 913-588-6338