In the beginning…
In April 2017, Code Blue for Autism was founded in Brisbane, Queensland by Helen and Dr. Michael Whelan, parents of a young man on the autism spectrum. Following diagnosis (Connor was diagnosed on his second birthday), Helen and Michael explored what the world of autism was like, both in Australia and worldwide. They embarked on an intensive early intervention program in their home in tandem with the triple threat of speech, occupational, and physio therapies. To ensure no stone was left unturned, they researched and implemented a range of dietary interventions and an audio/sensory integration program. They incorporated both special education and mainstream settings for socialisation.
On completion of year 12, they and fellow parents asked the question… School has finished, now what?
Our young adults can’t follow the traditional school leaver’s pathway of university, TAFE, an apprenticeship, or a job? Our young people need a pathway that will work for them. They need to build capacity, social skills, develop self-insight, and self-confidence.
In the absence of any suitable social skill programs for their son, Helen and Michael designed and developed the Chill program. To them, this need was urgent, they called it a ‘Code Blue’.
Helen has a background in nursing and the arts, and Michael, an actor, musician, writer, and esteemed academic (in both creative industries and autism). Dr. Whelan is a published author and has led numerous research projects specifically focussed on high school inclusion and transition from school to adulthood. As parents of course, Helen and Michael draw on their lived experience of 25 years.
A peer mentor is a similar aged person (peer) who can provide support, guidance and role modelling to an individual.
Moving away from the standard carer model in disability, peer mentors provide the social and cultural relevance needed to provide valid social and communication support. Social modelling is learnt by observation and relies on the peer to demonstrate the targeted behaviour and the participant to imitate the behaviour. Peer-mediated interventions are well documented as an evidence-based practice for young people with ASD.
Our peer mentors
Experienced peer mentors (male & female) are assigned participants based on shared interests. Our peer mentors understand that every young person with ASD is different and has unique needs. At Code Blue our peer mentor team strives to provide each participant with individualised support to enable optimal social growth.
What do you think of Chill?
Chill is an excellent place for people on the spectrum, including myself. They are accepting of all types of people and know how to get everyone interested and involved in doing their courses and activities. Chill Life in particular makes even doing the most boring of house chores fun and entertaining, as well as educating valuable cleaning and organisational skills.
But there are a variety of courses to do such as acting, robotics, sport, film and cooking and they’re all great. I think it’s a kind of miracle this place exists at all since Autism can be a very isolating experience, and chill is a place where you can feel understood and accepted by many people, whether they’re autistic or not
Thanks to all at Code Blue for Autism. Tayla has loved doing two courses with you and has grown as a person through the experience in so many ways. To me, the most important is learning about friendships. For the first time she is developing her own group of friends whom she has met through the program. Due to the struggle with two way communication she has never really bothered and has relied on her carers to be her friends. Now she has completed her course, the next exciting chapter which will be Chill Out, which starts tomorrow. Socialising with her peers and supported in a way that she is treated with respect for her abilities and given guidance. A practical way of implementing what she has learnt and practiced. Practice makes perfect. Thanks to Helen and Michael for making the difference and for finding such an incredible team who only see ability in our young adults not a disability.
Our family has found the Chill program delivers a warm nurturing safe space where participants learn and practice social skills and also acknowledge their own strengths and limitations as well as respecting those of others. The scaffolded support and extensive knowledge of the Chill directors means that my son feels valued, empowered and has a sense of pride in his own skills. My son also feels part of a social community separate from his own interests, his school and family. As an educator, I recognise this research based pioneering program is a powerful intervention tool in my son’s journey as well as the lives of others. We are delighted he has been able to participate and will participate with the group in other activities in the future.
Sometimes you have hopes and dreams for your children, you want to believe that they can happen but realistically you are aware of the challenges they face. For Lachie I wanted him to be able to travel, see parts of the world, and through the process become more self sufficient but knew this was not possible as a family and also not possible for Lachie to achieve independently. You have given him this opportunity to not only experience travel but also to do it in a social group where he is understood and accepted. Thank you does not seem enough to say, to see Lachie in those photos looking happy and confident, it was nice for a change to have tears of joy. I’m very sure this all happened due to many hours of preparation and planning and I am very grateful for your efforts. This social event will no doubt have lasting impact on Lachie and how he moves out into the real world of everyday, he has gained new skills, new friends and confidence to take away from this journey and to build on in the future. Unfortunately due to our circumstances we could not take these journeys as a family and I sometimes feel Lachie misses out because of this, so when I say thank you, I mean it from the heart. I hope Lachie has the opportunity again in the future to join a Chill vacation, this has been an adventure he will not forget and will always treasure as will I. Thank you for all your support and friendship to Lachie on the maiden Chill Ahoy 2019 cruise.
The Chill range of programs has been fantastic for Ryan. He commenced with Chill after finishing Year 12, and then progressed to Chill Plus, and most recently, Chill on Stage. Since he has been going to Chill, we have noticed such a development in Ryan’s independence, self-confidence and maturity. He loves going every week and it has provided a safe and supportive environment for him to learn and practise social skills, make friendships and socialise with others. He particularly loves the Chill Out program, which has enabled him to go out and have fun with other people his age without family, but still in a supportive context. Helen and Michael are inspirational in their leadership of the programs, and the facilitators and peer mentors are not only passionate and professional about what they do, but encourage each participant to try new things without judgment. Ryan has done things through Chill that we would previously never have thought he would do, and we are so thankful that he has had the opportunity to be part of such fantastic programs.
George is really enjoying Chill; he absolutely loves coming to sessions. We always discuss what he’s been doing at Chill Plus, and the feedback is always that it was ‘brilliant’. I am thrilled that George will be doing Chill Plus again in Term 2. Chill Out is also a winner in this household. George looks forward to the sessions and is always happy afterwards. In terms of Chill on the Grill, once again George is really enjoying it. He has even trialled one of the recipes at home, which was fabulous. On a personal note, thank you. You have created a suite of activities that truly benefit young people on the spectrum. From my viewpoint, I was disillusioned that so many available activities weren’t really suitable for young people. The Chill suite is a credit to you and your husband (and your whole family), and your efforts are very much appreciated.
We can see the changes in the way Marcus is chatting to extended family and friends. Also great to hear he is chatting more to his fellow Chillies… You and all the team do a fantastic job!
He was really happy and positive when he got in the car after his session on Wednesday. He is thoroughly enjoying Chill and we hope that he will be able to take part in more programs in the future. Liam is in a really good place at the moment, feeling more confident at his workplace and so much happier within himself. I really believe that the Chill Program has had a big part in this. Thank you so much for all your wonderful work.
Becoming a ‘Chillie’ has been incredibly beneficial for my son; attending the program has equipped him with an essential set of tools when approaching social situations that previously have felt intimidating for him. The inclusiveness and warmth of the group could be felt from the first minute, and it’s obvious the Chill staff are really invested in supporting the young people they work with. The Chill Out social group has also provided opportunities for Brodie to practice his developing social skills in a safe and supported environment. Most importantly, Brodie arrives home after every Chill event with a big smile!
Chill has been a life saver for Shivum who has made amazing progress and was on the brink of a complete mental breakdown just before he started Chill. Many many thanks and we really love the Chill family.
Just wanted to say thanks so much for the weekly emails recapping on the Chill Plus lessons. There is so much amazing content and learning each week. It’s wonderful to hear the Chillies recognising within themselves how incredible they are. It brought a smile to my face. I just wanted to say thank you to you and the team for preparing lessons of such a high calibre and for the learning that takes place. We are so happy that Robbie is a part of the class and has the opportunity to learn and develop his social skills each week.
Oscar had a big smile on his face after class yesterday. He also had a positive connection with a young female participant whose name he couldn’t remember (we workshopped how to deal with this next week). It was wonderful to see. Thanks for the great feedback.
Matthew’s year is ending much better than it started and I am certain the Chill courses are having a really positive influence on his life.
I just can’t begin to tell you the joy Ken (and the rest of us ) gets out of Chill on the Grill each week. Every thing about the program is brilliant… he’s just always so excited that he can’t help himself! They leave the kitchen better than any other family member when finished… But, the whole family has rejoiced and celebrated Kenneths hard work in the kitchen, and you can feel Kens pride in what he is sharing. It is truely a joyous program. I don’t want the term to end! I can’t speak highly enough about the fabulous Lucy (mentor) too! I just love and so appreciate everything you do!
They have awesome workshops for people who have autism.
Hayden is really loving Chill Art, he always has a spring in his step on a Tuesday morning! You guys at Chill are absolutely amazing and I thank you for your dedication, passion and heart.
Ned is translating Chilll Life skills to home… folding and ironing this afternoon. He is planning to cook tacos for dinner tonight. Your ever grateful Chill Parent.
My daughter suffered from social anxiety and was sensitive and worried about social situations. After fading into the background at high school, she bravely embarked upon the Chillout Drama program over her Summer vacation. We travelled up to Brisbane and she committed to being with a room full of complete strangers for a fortnight. Something, as an adult, I would find difficult to commit to myself. What followed was the most amazing drama classes and social interactions imaginable. I work in theatre, but here was a group of young people—young men and women from 14 to 20—all socialising and engaging in a project that allowed them to explore their strengths, laugh with a gang, be part of an amazing production, and to be in a non-judging and learning social situation. What followed was an opening up of social channels, so many smiles, new friends, lots of chatter that was free and open, and a real sense of being oneself. Unbelievably this culminated in returning to our home state and a new start to my daughter’s school year where on DAY ONE she returned home having reached out to a group of girls. These girls have quickly become her daily besties. After years of worry and feeling that my beautiful, loving and kind child was feeling left out, was too shy for the teens at her school, suddenly the sun came out. I could not have wished for a more wonderful experience. As a parent, I sat there and saw how easy it is to ‘come out of your shell’ when the situation is right. And how practising that in a nurturing environment gives a child the gifts and skills to take back to their lives. Social confidence is such a difficult thing in today’s complex teen society, it is also hard for a parent to know how to help your child find it, I feel so lucky to have found such a thoughtful, peer mentored program with such substance for my daughter. This program should be available to all young teens. I only wish we could attend the regular hangouts that are part of the ongoing Chillout program. Thank you Helen and all of the Chillout gang.