How do I support my autistic child in making friends?
It is common for many autistic children to struggle in social situations, so starting and maintaining friendships can be challenging. While it is a very natural desire for parents to want their child/children to make friends seamlessly, this will not always be the case.
Making friends can involve many obstacles for autistic children, namely with communication difficulties, anxiety, or social awkwardness.
How does an autistic person socialise?
Every person on the spectrum is different, with their own challenges and their own personalities. Each will have preferred ways of communicating and the kinds of people of whom they would like to be friends with.
However certain autistic traits, such as a preference for playing alone, approaching other children in an overly formal way, or difficulty taking turns in games can make creating friendships difficult for your child.
It’s important to remember these differences aren’t a deliberate attempt to push people away and they shouldn’t be made to feel like they are misbehaving. You should also bear in mind that there is no ‘one for all approach,’ when it comes to making friends or socialising.
What should I do?
Firstly, try not to force or impose social situations on autistic children who appear reluctant to engage in such situations. Take, for example, a situation most adults find unnerving or uncomfortable, like a job interview. Such an occasion can be overwhelming and can increase one’s level of anxiety. The same feelings are relatable when we force autistic children into social situations such as unexpected playdates and a bad experience with one may affect their confidence in trying further.
You can encourage your autistic child to engage in socialising on better terms without raising their anxiety. This will involve patience and some trial and error when trying to work out which situations and ways are best. A key element to this is deepening your understanding of your autistic child’s interests. By doing so, you will be able to locate opportunities and motivation to socialise for your child. Some ways to encourage socialising include: