BAC Friends

BAC Friends is a volunteer peer socialization after-school program designed to foster an inclusive environment where we enhance social interaction and communication between individuals with autism and their typically developing peers in a fun, engaging, and inspiring setting. 

All children need friends. We aim to create a community of acceptance, a community that better understands autism and embraces diversity.  Everyone is different in their own way and developing good friendships means accepting differences.

Peer socialization and play experiences are a vital part of all children’s learning, development and culture. BAC students get the opportunity to learn and practice socialization and communication through interactions with peers.  They are introduced to pro-social communication strategies that enhance social relations inside and outside the school, and reduce feelings of isolation.  They learn attending skills, sharing, initiation, following instructions, social cues, boundaries, and modeling good behavior. They participate in mutually engaging activities that encourage interaction, communication, learning and fun.

The program teaches typically developing peers the unique and complex challenges individuals on the spectrum experience.  They learn to recognize and accept differences in themselves by identifying their own affinities (strengths or gifts) and their own challenges (weaknesses or disabilities) and recognizing that we are all different in our own way.  They learn mentoring skills, problem solving techniques, how to give direction and reinforcement, and how to manage challenging behavior.  

Being a volunteer for BAC Friends is a commitment and means accepting the responsibilities to yourself and to the students at the Brooklyn Autism Center that will come to rely on your weekly visits. This program is very important for our students’ growth and we can only make it the best program possible when all volunteers and parents pitch in and honor their responsibilities.

A Message from our Founder…

The BAC peer socialization program was founded on the simple principle of making friends. I was a young mom with twins, one on the autism spectrum. Coincidentally my next door neighbors were a family with two sets of twins. Thinking of ways to help my son Ian learn to socialize with other children, I enlisted our young neighbors next door in an experimental playgroup focused on getting my son with ASD to participate in play skills. The goal was for his “friends” to get him to ask for things (snacks, toys) and laugh and play together.  Everyone in my twins pack enthusiastically agreed to come over a few times a week to play with Ian. The twins were then 2 years old and 5 years old. I gave our twin group an autism 101 talk, explaining that children with autism can have trouble making friends because they don’t always understand social cues and they get uncomfortable in high energy situations (like recess). Zoe, Olivia, Zach, Regan and my typical son Jake were the first iteration of our current peer socialization program known as BAC friends. 

When the Brooklyn Autism Center opened its doors in 2007 – my first group of BAC friends were my next door neighbor power-twins who were now experts on all things autism. BAC friends has evolved into a school-wide peer socialization program that partners with several schools in our community and educates our Brooklyn community and all of NYC how to best include neurodiverse individuals in all aspects of community life. 

As a young adult, one of the twin pack, Regan Hockenberry, continued to work with children and young adults with autism, and she was a fierce supporter of the neurodiverse.  She worked with and advocated for our community whenever she had the chance. In 2022 Regan lived in Brooklyn and worked with my son Ian again, this time they were two young adults who went to coffee, checked out elevators, and had impromptu dance parties. “We’re friends – hanging out,” she’d say as they walked out into our Williamsburg neighborhood. Regan also worked as a teacher at the Brooklyn Autism Center in the youngest kids classroom and was an active member of the BAC friends program and our school’s disability rights committee. 

Sadly, Regan passed away on January 1st, 2024. Her impact on the autism community, our family and the Brooklyn Autism Center will be felt forever – fierce kindness, friendship, non-judgement, and love are the words I think of to describe Regan’s ineffable spirit.