In hopes of increasing graduation rates, incoming freshmen on the autism spectrum can now find peer support while adjusting to college life.

SOCIAL Gators, a program which began this Fall, offers peer mentorship and group meetings for new students on the spectrum.

The program is a collaboration between UF’s Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD), the Counseling and Wellness Center and the Disability Resource Center. It also includes academic counseling and a section of the First-year Florida course.

“The main goal is student retention and graduation,” Ann-Marie Orlando, associate director of CARD said.

SOCIAL Gators will accept students at any time, Orlando wrote in an email.

Every Friday, program directors meet with mentors and mentees for an hour-long discussion group.

“It’s more of a weekly review to sort of touch base and talk about your week and any concerns that someone has,” Orlando said.

At the second meeting Sept. 1, about five attendees spoke about communication through body language, including Mary Neill, a 20-year-old statistics and economics sophomore.

Neill, who works with SOCIAL Gators, hopes the program will help students with communicating their needs, she said.

Through the mentorship program, mentees can get help in areas they might have trouble with, like introducing themselves to professors or getting involved in social events, Neill said.

“The sort of social skills and the general anxieties that they’re talking about working on are things that I know I struggled with my first year,” Neill said.