Do people with autism make and maintain authentic friendships? Is it even possible? During the month of February we set out to determine difficulties, pitfals, successes and positive aspects about friendship and relationship maintenance with friends in people with autism. We will take a look at friendship from many perspectives in a multi-part series.
A common misnomer is that people with autism do not want to have friends. In all honesty, people with autism, are humans like the rest of us and their desire for friendship can be similar to neurotypical peers. Essentially, the desire for friendship can vary from person to person and is not limited by their disorder. However, people with autism can have more difficulty making and maintaining friendships. Suffice it to say, the desire may not lack but the ability to make and maintain a relationship may be difficult.
Children make friends in socially developmental appropriate ways. Typically, they begin with initiating play or use social skills to strike up conversations with peers. Well, this can be very difficult to do for children that have autism. Let’s explore some important aspects about friendship for children with autism.
Build Social Skills
Friendships begin and are maintain with socialization. To help your child with autism make friends with their peers consider working on their social skills as an explicit part of their daily routine, therapy schedule and at every opportunity.
This plan will look differently for each child as it depends on their developmental levels and social development. However, it can start with the use of social stories, extended conversations or modeling with other peers.
With my daughter, we focused on social skills groups and social stories to help her understand how to interact with peers. As we worked with her to understand appropriate ways to interact with peers we began to see small improvements in her interactions with her brother and peers.
The Child Mind Institute reccommends using role play as a way to help children to learn appropriate ways to make friends. They, also, reccommend using “social scripts” at home to teach children about rejection and help them to learn to respond appropriately to peers.
Many children with autism begin their first friendships as facilitated friendships. These relationships begin through the facilitation of a peer that becomes or imposed on the person with autism as ‘friend.’ Simply put, the friendship is orchestrated and set up by a parent or caregiver.
Facilitated friendships are an excellent first step to social development and peer play for children with autism. A core deficit in many with autism is social interaction and appropriate play. Matching your child with a friend can help them experience friendship in a safe way that is beneifical to both children involved. This is a great option for those that need help with facilitating the early stages of friendship.
Intervene as needed
Some people with autism, or in general, do not desire to have many or any friends. As parents of children on the spectrum, it is important to understand the distinction of wanting to have a friend and not caring about friendship. It is a careful tightrope to walk to force friendships on children with autism.
Some may have a strong desire for social interaction with friends and faciltiated friendship and building social skills are excellent to help aide them in the process of making friends. However, some may not have a desire to have friends. While it is important to make sure they learn to build proper social interaction skills for their life. It is important to know when to not force friends on the child.
A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out. ~Unknown
Let your child take the lead on friendship development. Make sure to have a plan to help them learn the proper ways to make friends, in their own time. With my daughter, it took a couple of years for her to branch out and make her own authentic friendships that were not facilitated by me. It was difficult to sit on the sidelines and watch, but it needed to be on her time.
With all things, remember, the child led desires are the best way to help advocate for your child with autism. Devising a plan for friendship development is important, but acting on the plan as the child sees fit is the key to proper friendship development.
Embrace Autism is devoted to building a community that fosters inclusivity for those on the autism spectrum. We would love to hear from you! Feel free to comment below or contact us for more help with blog development.