How can I help my autistic child make friends?
posted: Dec. 30, 2022.
Making friends is tough for a lot of people, especially kids. It can be even tougher for kids with autism.
When a person has autism spectrum disorder, they’re likely to be challenged with their social and communication skills. They may not understand body language, facial expression, or different tones of voice very well, which are all social cues. For this reason, making friends can feel intimidating or downright impossible.
But we’re a social species, no matter our challenges, and having friends – whether just one, two, or many – is a benefit to all of us. Your autistic child can make friends – perhaps you just need a few tips on how to support them in making some. (Please keep in mind that not all of the following tips may work for your child, if any; these are simply general suggestions).
1. Practice. Like anything in life, practice makes progress. No one picks up a book for the first time and knows how to read without first being taught, without practicing recognizing the letters and sounding out the words.
It’s the same with making friends. How does one make a friend, anyway? We probably start with some conversation, some questions, some sharing, some partnership in an activity. Practice greeting other people. Practice asking safe, gentle, getting-to-know-you questions. Practice with those in your inner family circle, like siblings or other trusted adults, and show your child that the more one practices getting to know others, the easier it gets.
2. Create connection through interests. Even though it’s true that opposites attract, many of us were magnetized to our friends because of shared interests, right? We may like watching the same sports, enjoy the same genre of movies, eat the same kinds of foods.
Consider what your child is interested in, and think about how you may be able to find a group focused on that interest. For example, if your child loves horses, think about enrolling them in a riding class once a week. If your child is into painting, perhaps there’s an art class in your neighborhood. As much as possible, find groups with children who are the same age as your child.
3. Talk about what it means to be a friend. For your child to recognize what kinds of friends they want, they need to know what kind of friend they can be, too. Talk to your child about exactly what they hope to find in another person, a peer. Do they want someone to build play-doh castles with, someone with whom to dance to silly music? Do they want someone who says nice, kind things? Helping your child understand what a friend is will make the experience of making friends even sweeter.