Helping children understand and cope with autism

Psychologist Sonya McCall does some Secret Agent Society activities with her client as part of Autism Awareness Week.
Psychologist Sonya McCall does some Secret Agent Society activities with her client as part of Autism Awareness Week. Max Fleet

BUNDABERG children with autism spectrum disorder are miles ahead of the pack with access to a revolutionary new program developed by a Queensland psychologist.

Btransformed Psychologist Sonya McCall has been running the Secret Agent Society program in Bundaberg for about 12 months and said the results had been overwhelmingly positive.

"Kids with autism spectrum disorder have a lot of difficulty recognising emotion and communicating with their peers," Ms McCall said.

"So this teaches them how to make a friend, how to have a conversation and carry it on and how to express their own emotions.

"Instead of just covering the basic emotions like happy, sad and angry, we go into the more complex emotions such as jealousy and guilt and sarcasm."

Ms McCall said the sessions were run in groups of three children and it was designed to be like a game which taught them valuable skills at the same time.

"The program is designed for kids eight to 12 years old but we have run it for younger and older ones too," she said.

"We call it the secret agent society and they learn how to decode different social signals.

"Some kids with ASD are already seen as being the weird kid so we make it a secret sort of spy game."

Ms McCall said the program was producing excellent results in Bundaberg.

"Some of the kids have just made such huge leaps and bounds," she said.

"One mother said her life is full of Kodak moments now because there are so many new firsts.

"Lots of people say their children have their first friend now."

The psychologist said children with ASD often missed social cues and the group work in the sessions helped them overcome that.

"They learn things like how to tell if someone is being mean and making fun of you or if they're just mucking around," she said.

"Kids with ASD usually have a lot of anxiety because society is all about relationships and they get stuck in school with hundreds of kids and they don't have the skills to cope.

"Their anxiety can result in frustration and anger so it's important for them to learn these things."

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