Developing Social Skills for

Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Mary Benton, MEd, BCBA, is a retired special education consultant for the Capital Area Intermediate Unit in Harrisburg, PA. Mary has a private practice as a board-certified behavior analyst serving individuals with ASD and/or developmental disabilities. Additionally, she is co-founder of Destination Friendship, an organization that provides fun, community-based opportunities targeted at developing friendship skills in children, and adolescents with ASD. Mary has presented at national, state, and local conferences. Mary has had a life-long passion for working with individuals with special needs, their families, and schools to build skills that will improve and increase their quality of life.

Our History

Many years ago, Carol Hollis dreamed of providing an opportunity for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to come together, participate in fun activities and build relationships all the while improving friendship skills.  Once she partnered with colleagues Mary Benton, Kelly Mahler, and Alice Womer, the journey towards Destination Friendship began.

The four Tour Guides (TGs) created Destination Friendship groups and offered them to individuals with ASD in the community. They immediately started noticing many magical results.

The Destination Friendship participants were having fun, building self-esteem, improving crucial friendship skills and developing relationships. Participants, some of whom had struggled with friendship skills for years, were finally making the connections that they were seeking. Some were leaving the Destination Friendship experience with their very first invites to birthday parties, play dates, and get-togethers within the community.

Over the years of providing Destination Friendship groups, we have had the joy of witnessing many magical moments.  It is our sincere hope that future Destination Friendship groups will allow more individuals with ASD to achieve positive and meaningful relationships.

Kelly Mahler, MS, OTR/L,  is a pediatric occupational therapist in the Central Pennsylvania region. She specializes in the development of self-regulation and social cognition skills. Additionally, Kelly is co-founder of Destination Friendship which is an organization providing fun, community-based opportunities targeted at developing friendship skills in children, adolescents, and teenagers with ASD. Kelly is author of the book Hygiene and Related Behaviors for Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum and Related Disorders: A Fun Curriculum with a Focus on Social Understanding which is winner of Mom’s Choice Awards Gold Medal 2011. She has presented at numerous national, state and local conferences.

Carol Hollis, MEd, BCBA,   is an educational consultant for autism with the Capital Area Intermediate Unit in Harrisburg, PA. In this role, Carol provides guided practice, training, and technical assistance to general and special educators in grades K-12. Carol and her therapy dog, Lily, also provide enrichment to students by visiting classrooms. Carol and her coauthors offer evening Destination Friendship groups in the community targeted at developing friendship skills in children and adolescents with ASD and other social difficulties. Carol has presented at national, state, and local conferences and is a board member of the Harrisburg chapter of the Autism Society of America. She particularly enjoys volunteering at several events sponsored by ASA for individuals with ASD and their families.

Alice Womer, MS, CC-SLP, has served as a speech-language pathologist and educational consultant with the Capital Area Intermediate Unit in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for 29 years, responsible for direct treatment with students with ASD in self-contained classrooms as well as integrated settings. Additionally, she provides consultation and training to educational teams regarding the communication needs of students with ASD. Alice is the creator of the concept of curve line-straight line thinking and co-author of the children s book Curvy Herbie and Straight Nate A Lesson in Curve Line Thinking. She has presented locally and at the national level. Alice and her co-authors offer evening Destination Friendship groups in the community targeted at developing friendship skills in children and adolescents.