Many parents are more concerned about their children’s happiness and friendships than they do about their academic achievement. That is understandable. For many, having good friends equates to a happy and fulfilled life. What parent wouldn’t have high aspirations for their child to feel contented in that respect?
However, when a child is diagnosed with autism, expectations can change somewhat, though many parents continue to aspire to encourage their child to make friends. Here are five tips to support you in helping your autistic child make friends.
Seek Professional Help
While we parents know our children best of all, many professionals actually have tried and tested methods to support autistic children gain the necessary skills and understanding to support them to build friendships. An organization like Action Behavior, for example, can support your child to understand and apply social skills.
Follow Their Interests
Most autistic children will have a particular interest that they almost obsess over. For some children, it is trains; others prefer a certain TV program. Finding other children who have similar interests can be a great route to finding them someone to talk to and who want to spend time together. Look at local schools, libraries, and centers to see if there are any clubs that your child might like to try. Finding like-minded individuals can often signal the start of solid friendships.
While you may invite a handful of friends over on an ordinary basis, try to avoid that approach with your autistic child, at least to begin with. Playdates on a one-to-one basis are a much better place to start. Furthermore, try not to have too many options of items to play with as this can overwhelm them.
While your child may like having someone in their space, sharing their possessions could be an issue. Having a box dedicated to toys for playdates is an option to consider.
It can be difficult to know what is expected of a friend. Many children instinctively seem to know and understand how friendships work and how to resolve problems, such as not wanting to do the same activity. Writing and sharing social stories with your child can show them behavioral expectations linked to friendships, helping them apply them to their own situations.
Reminding them of stories they have heard when they hit a stumbling block can be helpful. For example, using the question “Do you remember how Olly coped when he and his friend were fighting over the toy train?” may support your child to respond better and deal with disagreements more easily.
It can be difficult to see your child engaging in a friendship with someone, but it does not reflect what you think one should look like or how it should be. Accepting that autistic people think and act differently, rather than things being wrong, should help you understand that socializing with them might not meet your expectations. And that is absolutely ok.
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