LAS VEGAS, Nevada (KVVU) — For many, Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate love. But for people on the spectrum, February 14 can be a bit intimidating.
Inclusion Fusion, a local organization that offers a variety of programs for southern Nevadans with disabilities, is hoping to change that with a special course. “Dating for All” is a 12-week course empowering people with autism with the necessary tools and tips to find the companionship they’re looking for.
Though the center welcomes all ages, cousins Mia Fortunato and Jake Rich have made it their mission to make sure that adults on the spectrum are living their very best life.
“Growing up in the community and also working in the community since a young age we were able to see the gaps that were missing,” said Fortunato who serves as Inclusion Fusion’s Director of Operations.
“We saw that once they graduated high school, and once they graduated from their Applied Behavioral Analysis, there wasn’t really anywhere for them to go to socialize and have fun and be an adult.”
At Inclusion Fusion clients never age out their programs.
In addition to teaching important life skills, the organization provides opportunities to socialize with peers.
“I think that the majority of the people who walk thru our doors want that socialization, and they want to make friends,” said Fortunato.
A major goal for many of them is exploring the dating world. But with so many unspoken rules and societal expectations, finding love can be daunting.
That was the inspiration behind Inclusion Fusion’s “Dating for All” course. The 12-week program delves into every aspect of courtship. From asking someone out on a date, tipping on a date, building confidence and how to handle rejection — the program covers it all.
Dating for All participant Michael martin said he’s learned a lot.
“Don’t talk about money because it wouldn’t be appropriate,” said Martin. “Now I do say I work at BJ’s and I get paid pretty well. That would be more appropriate because I’m not saying how much I make.”
Inclusion Fusion’s Program Manager, Jake Rich, truly enjoys what he does. “It’s an absolute blast hanging out with all of them,” said Rich. “We have a lot of funny moments.”
But the course also covers serious topics like the importance of boundaries.
“A big part of our program is that consent goes both ways,” said Fortunato. “That someone on the spectrum is more vulnerable than someone who is neurotypical. We try to emphasize to them that consent is a two-way street and that they need to ask for consent, but then the other person needs to be asking for their consent as well.”
Fortunato also reminds participants that not wanting to date is okay too.
She reminds them that it is okay if you never get married. It’s okay if you never kiss anyone. It’s okay if you never want kids.
“They have all of these preconceived notions about how society works and how a neurotypical person goes thru their romantic life, and we break down those societal norms and we say it’s okay if you never want to do that,” said Fortunato.
And when the 12-week course ends, Inclusion Fusion is still there for any new questions that may arise.
“We’re just kind of here as their support system in anything they need,” said Fortunato. “We really keep the door open for them.”
The next “Dating for All” course begins March 5, 2023.
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