Will she be an academic or an athlete? What will his interests be? Will she attend college or start her own business? While these are the questions that parents of most children are asking, as a parent of a child with autism, you may be more concerned with answers to questions like…Will he attend school? Will she get bullied? Or even, will he ever have a friend? How do you help improve your child’s Autism friendship skills?
And as somber as it is, that last question is reality for many parents of children on the spectrum. Autism not only affects learning and development, it also affects one’s ability to interact socially and form friends. If you’ve ever experienced anxiety over approaching a new friend or potential colleague, consider what that would be like if you were unable to read social cues, such as body language, hand gestures, tone of voice and even facial expressions. This is the reality for your child with autism.
With that, your concern regarding your child’s ability to make friends is valid. But fortunately, there are a number of ways you can support your child’s attempts to make friends and even foster an environment in which he or she can do so. Use these tips as a guide to help your child begin developing the Autism friendship skills he needs to establish positive relationships with peers that have the potential to transform into lasting friendships.
And before we start remember you are not alone. You are now part of a giant special needs community. There are therapists, school districts, teachers, aides, support groups, state agencies, health insurance companies, and other similarly affected families to help you in this. Not only will you be connecting to incredibly dedicated experienced talented people to help your kiddo but many of them will become your good friends as well.
Here we go:
Before you can begin to expect your child to want to form relationships with others, you need to help him develop an understanding of what a friend is and what friendships look like. So start with the basics. Help you child “define” what a friend is by sharing qualities you appreciate in friends, such as caring, accepting, sharing interests, etc. You can also have conversations with your child about what a friend is not, asking questions that include, “Do you enjoy being around someone who calls you or others names?” or “Would you rather spend time with someone who’s kind and helps you?” You may even want to engage in role playing to demonstrate different interactions your child may expect when first trying to get to know friends. For example, you may demonstrate how to introduce yourself and ask the acquaintance’s name, and then reversing roles.
Because your child has difficulties with social interactions, it may be unlikely that they initiate conversations on their own, especially in the beginning. Do your best to create opportunities for interactions to practice the “basics” you’ve been working on. If you have a young child, trips to the park, play dates, and other social opportunities are great places to put their Autism friendship skills into practice. Play dates are especially beneficial as you can control some of the variables involved, including location, number of children present, and even activities. If your child is older, look for social groups, clubs, or even teams in which your child can participate. It may take some additional support in the beginning, but these experiences can be invaluable for helping your child develop effective connections.
As hard as it may be to see your child struggling to make friends now, remember that the goal is to help them be able to develop lasting relationships long-term. So instead of expecting a whole group of new friends tomorrow, think about where you want your child to be 5 years from now. And then from there, focus on breaking down the autism friendship skills they will need to reach that goal. This approach also helps you celebrate the “small wins” along the way, which can help keep you both stay motivated toward developing new relationships.
Regardless of how difficult making friends is in the beginning, remember that it is a process that you and your child are both learning together. And don’t get discouraged. Making friends is a lifelong process for everyone that doesn’t ever have to be “mastered” when mutual companionship is the goal.
About the Author:
Caryl Anne Crowne is a media specialist and contributing author for the Aveanna Healthcare Blog. She regularly produces content for a variety of pediatric therapy blogs covering topics such as autism, speech therapy and general medical solutions.
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