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Helping children with autism make friends

Helping children with autism make friends

Making friends is a crucial part in every child’s growth and development, and parents of children with autism understand how difficult it can be for their children to connect with their peers. Children with autism have social deficits, making it difficult for them to establish friendships. They may portray behaviors or use a language that their peers may perceive as unusual. 

These challenges could also lead to bullying, especially in school. For that reason, children with autism may avoid making friends and completely withdraw from social situations. This does not mean they are not interested in making friends. They would love to, but they need help in learning and understanding social skills. 

In this post, we look at the various ways you can help your child with autism make friends. 

Invite a potential friend or classmate over to play 

If your child has friends at school they would like to have play dates with, you can coordinate with their parents to have a playdate in your home where your child is comfortable. Children are usually more relaxed when they are at home, making it easier for them to focus on social interactions.

Ask your child’s class teacher if there are children that have shown interest in making friends with your child or who have similar interests. You also need to plan activities that your child likes to do with their peers. 

Here are a few activities you could plan:

  • Younger children may prefer fun activities that encourage cooperative play. You may also want to try structural activities, but without the open-ended imaginative play. 
  • Teenagers would do better with either indoor or outdoor activities. Ask your child and their friend if they share something in common and encourage them to do activities related to that.

If your child doesn’t enjoy sharing their toys or anything that belongs to them with their friends, you could put away those things or take them out to a kids’ play area (for younger children) or a museum (for older children). 

Make your child understand what friendship means 

This may seem like an obvious point, but the reality is that most kids don’t know how to define what a friend is. Ask them questions like if they like if their classmates call them names or if they are nice to them. Some children have considered bullies as friends. Understanding these concepts can be challenging for children, especially children with autism. 

Be sure to explain to them what a friend is in simple terms. Let them know that friends should treat them well and be interested in what they say, how they feel, and what they want to do. 

Practice 

You’ve probably heard the term ‘practice makes perfect’. Children with autism may require more time and repetition to master new skills. Taking time to practice with your child can boost their confidence levels in applying the skills learned in real-life situations. 

You can practice the different aspects of establishing friendships, such as greeting, sharing toys, suggesting fun activities to engage in, and asking questions. Ask your child to practice with their siblings or other children in their neighborhood. 

Roleplaying is another great way to help your child develop social skills. You can create a situation and walk through it with your child beforehand to give them an idea of what to expect and how to conduct themselves. 

However, ensure your child practices or engages in roleplay with people who are patient and understand their condition. They should feel safe while practicing interacting with friends. 

Positive reinforcement 

The importance of positive reinforcement in getting your child with autism to make friends can never be emphasized enough. Like in all areas of your child’s development, praising them and pointing out positive social behaviors they exhibit goes a long way. 

Most children with autism don’t understand what is expected of them, which often leaves them confused. Praising and reinforcing prosocial behavior can shape your child’s behavior and develop their social skills. 

Here are a few positive reinforcement tips to keep in mind:

  • Find an effective reinforcer – A reinforcer that works for your child could be something tangible, edible, visual, an activity, or even physical stimuli.
  • Drive the reinforcement after the desired social behavior – Do this within the shortest time - possibly in 5 seconds. 
  • Use different reinforcers – This is important in keeping things interesting and encouraging your child to improve. Keep note of what your child responds positively to.
  • Be ready to change as needed – If a particular reinforcement is no longer effective, don’t hesitate to switch it up.
  • Slow down on reinforcers – You can reduce the number of times you use the reinforcers when your child achieves the desired results. The goal is to get to a point where your child can comfortably make friends, and you no longer have to use reinforcers. 
  • Be patient – Change takes time, so you should practice patience in guiding your child.

You also need to capitalize on your child’s strengths. Children with autism have areas of interest that are specific to them. Focusing on this can help them further develop their social skills which will be helpful in making friends. 

Use local resources

Another great way to help your child make friends is to enroll them in your local playgroups or after-school activities. Of course, you have to choose activities that interest them. This could be computer coding clubs, chess, or astronomy. Structured activities, such as scouts, girl guides, and martial arts, can be beneficial for children with autism as well.

Read body language and facial expressions 

Get some picture cards displaying different body languages and facial expressions and explain to your child what they mean. Once your child masters the different emotions, make a video of someone acting out the different emotions and explain them again. Understanding the emotions can help your child decipher non-verbal cues and know when their friends are angry, sad, frustrated, or happy. 

Build a connection through common interests

Having shared interests or passions is a great way to bond. When children with autism have common interests with other children, either with or without autism, they find it easier to relate to them. The sources of interest could be art, love for sports, passion for biking, and others. 

You can find children who have similar interests as your child by talking to parents of children with autism at your child’s school or your local support group or autism association. 

It takes time to make a friend 

Your child with autism may struggle to make friends, but with encouragement and support from you and their support system, they can gain confidence and navigate the social landscape. You should never give up. Children with autism are usually keen on making friends, but they need time to find the right ones. 

Stay positive, be patient, and continue looking for opportunities where your child can find children with similar interests. Your child will be happy when they finally find a friend they can play with. 

Final words

Children with autism need to be supported in every way. One way is helping them make friends, as autism is known to impair social skills and affect positive peer relationships. With the right intervention measures and patience, it’s possible to support your child in making friends. Be consistent with the lessons you reinforce at home, and you’ll eventually see improvement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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