Chris Cleveland

Chris Cleveland leads a BEACON Afterschool Club called Social Development that helps kids build confidence. [Courtesy photo]

Chris Cleveland is, in his own words, “an autistic adult who contributes to the workforce.”

Autism spectrum disorder is a condition related to brain development that is partly characterized by difficulties with social interaction and communication. 

Now, through his Social Development club for middle schoolers that he leads as part of the BEACON Afterschool Program, he is using the insights he has gained while overcoming social challenges to help kids with similar struggles develop social skills.

“We will be learning social skills like critical thinking, impulse regulation and

control,” Cleveland said, “increasing their confidence in high-stress social situations like the first job interview, and much more.”

He added that one way he helps club members develop their critical thinking is through games of chess.

Right now, the group meets at the Grand County Middle School for an hour after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But, Cleveland said, his goal is to eventually meet for two hours at a time and also have a Social Development Club at Grand County High School as well.

Cleveland said the club came about after he became curious if there were afterschool clubs specifically designed to help students with social disadvantages. Searching the internet, he found “nothing close” to what he had in mind. So, Cleveland said, he approached BEACON Afterschool Director Melinda Snow with his idea, and found support by her and other members of the BEACON administration.

Cleveland said he and the club members are having a good time together, but the greater joy is watching his club members learn and grow.

“I sometimes get to see them apply what they've learned in BEACON in other life settings,” he said. “It’s moments like that which make it worth the effort put in and make me glad I came back to the school district from which I graduated.”

Cleveland is a 2012 graduate of Grand County High School.

Cleveland said he encourages parents or legal guardians who are interested in registering a child for the middle school Social Development club to contact Grand County Middle School BEACON Instructor Becky Peterson at petersonb@grandschools.org or by calling 435-260-7001. For those with more questions about the Social Development Club, Cleveland may be contacted at clevelandc@grandschools.org.