The Help Group’s Kaleidoscope Program Celebrates a Successful First Year Made Possible Through a Generous Anonymous Donor
Kaleidoscope is the newest of The Help Group programs and has just completed its first year of operation in July. Kaleidoscope aims to improve the quality of life for LGBTQ+ youth and young adults through mental health services, diagnostic evaluations, coaching services, vocational training, job placement, social activities/ outings and community outreach. While we work with the full LGBTQ+ community, our specific focus is on youth and young adults who have been diagnosed with/are suspected of having an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Research, as well as our own anecdotal experience, reflect a rising number of ASD young people who identify as LGBTQ+. For example, nearly a quarter of young people presenting with gender incongruence are also thought to be on the autism spectrum. LGBTQ+ young people with ASD can face more complex issues than their typical peers. They experience a higher level of bullying, sensory-oversensitivity and lack of acceptance from family and friends. They view themselves as strongly tied to two different cultures- the ASD culture and the LGBTQ+ culture. Until Kaleidoscope came into being, many of these youths struggled to find a place where both their cultures were accepted and understood and they were not being asked to “choose” between being one or the other.
Within the myriad offerings of Kaleidoscope, the two largest programs are our mental health services and our social support groups. While being LGBTQ+ is not a “mental health issue” by itself, there is significant research supporting that these teens and young adults often experience rejection, trauma, anxiety, self-doubt, depression and suicidality due to a lack (or fear of) acceptance and understanding from family, friends, community and even themselves. Kaleidoscope served nearly 50 clients in our first year and continues to accept new referrals. Our social and community events have reached nearly 500 people in our first year! We have offered LGBTQ-related field trips such as seeing the LA Gay Men’s Choir, forming a Pride Club for Teens, and a Coffee Talk gathering for young adults.
The LGBTQ+ community is known for its resilience and never was that more evident than when Kaleidoscope had to move all services and programming to a virtual platform due to Covid-19. But the silver lining in this was it allowed us to have a much broader reach in terms of the people who engaged with us and in expanding our geographic boundaries. Kaleidoscope’s virtual offerings led to many young people finally finding an accepting community. By moving online, we were able to overcome previous barriers to attending programs in person (commute time, finding an adult ally, needing to be out to family). Many of our school-aged clients reported feeling less anxious and depressed as they did not have to be confronted by bullies at school and no longer felt isolated or alone. For this subset of the LGBTQ+ community, attending events virtually was a life-saver.
Kaleidoscope, the first of it’s kind to offer supports, services and training to a neurodiverse LGBTQ+ community, gained significant traction. We are proud to say we have have reached over 1,000 LGBTQ+ people, spreading the message of acceptance, inclusion and affirmation… and our work has only just begun.