In this blog from Solstice Behavioral Health in Shelton, CT, we explore 5 tips you can help your child make friends as the both of you navigate their autism journey.
What Should I Know About Friendships And Children With Autism?
Friendships are key to the social and emotional growth of children. Having friends can help your child negotiate, problem-solve, cooperate, respond to the emotions of others, and manage their own emotions. When it comes to children on the spectrum, they may need support and guidance from their parents and loved ones to cultivate the skills to make new friends and keep them. These social skills can include:
- Initiating conversations
- Participating in activities with other children
- Adapting to new social situations and activities
- Meeting other children with similar interests
- Understanding facial expressions and body language
- Inferring what others are thinking and feeling
- Solving social problems or disagreements
What Are 5 Tips That Can Help Children With Autism Make Friends?
Define What A Friend Is
Literally. Children with autism benefit greatly from very clear definitions. Without a concrete definition, the concept of a friend may be too abstract. At school, daycare, or other social settings, your child could benefit from specificity to help them make sense of the range of social interactions they experience. Examples can include telling your child the following:
- “Friends say nice things to you, especially if you are sad or not having a good day. Sometimes, a friend might share their toys or snacks if they want to.”
- “Children who call you names or say mean things to you are not your friends.”
Practice With Siblings, Cousins, Or Neighbors
Your child can practice the process of making a friend in a safe environment with people you trust, such as siblings, cousins that are similar in age, or the children of neighbors. Practice and repetition are incredibly beneficial to helping children with autism whenever they learn a new skill, and that includes friendship. With trusted friends and family, you can “trouble-shoot” and guide your child through issues before your child encounters social difficulties in a different setting. With family or neighbors, your child can practice:
- Getting to know someone through asking and answering questions
- Participating in an activity with others
- Sharing toys
Build On Your Child’s Interests
As you get to know your child and learn and grow together, make a note of what they like. Helping your child find other children with similar interests can be a good way to help them make friends. Consider enrolling your child in an after-school class or finding a club or playgroup related to their interests, with other children in their age group. Sometimes, children with ASD may want to enjoy some of their interests or hobbies privately, away from social pressure. As this may be the case, ask your child if they want to continue their class or group activity. Create a safe environment for them to share their feelings and potentially say no.
Include Potential New Friends
If there is someone at school that your child wants to be friends with, reach out to their parents and create opportunities for the children to talk and play together. Depending on what is most comfortable for your child, you can invite their potential new friend to your home, where it may be more comfortable. If your child prefers their space and has favorite toys they would rather not share, consider the park or a play place. Structured play can be a good idea, in which you provide the toys or resources, suggest an activity, or join in to offer guidelines or directions.
Children can’t develop new skills overnight, nor will they want to make friends if it feels like too much work. Focus on the long-term successes and applaud your child’s growth as you support their process and make it as fun and enjoyable as possible.
At Solstice Behavioral Health and Consulting, we are proud to offer a number of services for you and your child with autism, such as diagnostic services, Applied Behavior Analysis, and an after-school program. With more than 20 years of providing support and training for families, Solstice Behavioral Health and Consulting in Shelton, Connecticut strives to become a bedrock for autism awareness and education. Contact our office at 203-900-4720 to see how we can help you and your family move forward together.