Making a connection

How to help your child with autism spectrum disorder cultivate friendships

For most people, making friends is fairly easy. You go up to someone, talk to them for a bit, find out that you have some things in common and you have a new friend.

But what if you have autism spectrum disorder or know someone who has ASD? The reality is that for people with autism, making and keeping friends is usually one of the biggest struggles in their lives. For the most part, kids with autism want to feel a sense of belonging and connection to their peers just like everyone else, but they don’t know how to take the first steps. As a parent what can you do?

The first step is to have a conversation about having friends. While most kids with autism want to have connections, there are some that prefer to be alone. They could also not be aware of the fact that they want friends yet. Some kids are able to figure out their feelings without the help of an adult. You’ll know this if they are frequently expressing feelings of loneliness or general disconnection or isolation from their classmates.

Some kids with autism are more comfortable talking with their parents or other adults in their lives versus their peers. The reason for this fairly simple: adults are usually more accepting and open than other kids. Kids can be quicker to judge and have less understanding about other people’s differences, which can often be due to limited experiences.

Adults, on the other hand, are generally more accepting of others’ differences, which is primarily due to their experiences working with a variety of people on a day-to-day basis. The child may have a fear of being judged or teased because of their slightly different or odd behaviors or general social awkwardness. If they are interacting mostly with adults, this should be looked on positively because the child is talking to someone instead of isolating themselves.

But what can you do as a parent to get your child with autism more involved with his peers? Try encouraging them to join a club or sport depending on their interests and abilities. The child’s school support team can be involved in this process if necessary.

Setting up something for your child like a play date is an option. However, this depends on the age of the student. Younger students (kindergarten through fourth-grade) could benefit from a parent setting up a play date or events for their child to attend.

Remember if your child is actively talking about not wanting friends, don’t push the subject. Their feelings could change over time, but some people with ASD prefer to be alone and to not be socially involved. Remember to never act solely on assumptions about your child’s feelings. You may know them better than anyone, but no one has the ability to read minds.

For insight from high school students with ASD, check out “Surviving High School with Autism,” a blog where the author discusses the ins and outs of surviving high school with autism spectrum disorder:

Philip Smith of New Hampshire, author of the blog, “Surviving High School with Autism,” is a high school junior with autism who wants to provide support for younger people who are making the transition from middle school to high school. He likes to travel, try out different coffee shops, and spend time with family and his pets.

Kelsey Hall is a speech-language pathologist (SLP) and teacher of the deaf in New Hampshire. She enjoys spending time learning about and working with students, many of whom have autism. Her role in the blog is to provide sign language interpretation to Philip’s responses to make the blog accessible to all.

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