Program to help youth with autism

April 17, 2024

In recognition of National Autism Month, the Paso del Norte Health Foundation highlights the PEERS program at New Mexico State University (NMSU)

The Autism Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS) is a partnership with the NMSU Papen-Aprendamos Autism Diagnostic Center (ADC). With funding from the Health Foundation’s Mental Health and Emotional Initiative, support is provided to ADC in implementing the PEERS program for at least 50 participants 18 months to 17 years of age who live in Doña Ana, Luna, and Otero counties.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects social interaction, communication, and behavior. Individuals with ASD often struggle with making and maintaining friendships, leading to isolation and loneliness. The U.S. Surgeon General says that lack of social connection poses a significant health risk, and that loneliness and social isolation can increase the risk of premature death by 26% and 29%, respectively (, 2023).

The PEERS program improves the mental health of teens with autism by helping them make friendships and critical social connections.

“It’s important to have that one friend, one person that you can interact with, that you can call if you need support, to go and hang out with, to have activities and do things with,” Kali Hall, PEERS Community Outreach Coordinator, said. “That one friend reduces anxiety, depression, the risk of being bullied, the risk of suicide, and increases your physical health at age 25; having one friend and its effect on mental health is so clear.”

The PEERS program has three central units, and the participants focus on starting conversations, deepening friendships, and responding to social negativity. Improving and helping individuals with autism develop and strengthen essential social skills will ultimately improve their overall mental health and well-being.

To learn more about ADC and the PEERS program, Click Here.

PDNHF Initiative: Mental Health & Emotional Well-Being

Develop, lead, and invest in partnerships, organizations, programs, and communications to promote emotional well-being, reduce stigma and negative bias, and improve access, ease of navigation, and continuity of care for mental and behavioral health services.

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Foundation Staff: Sandra Day

Mental Health & Emotional Well-Being

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