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.
- indifferent to other people and socialising
- prefer to play or do activities alone g
- approach other children in an overly formal way, or
- use inappropriate language when talking to other people.
It is important to note here that there is no ‘one for all approach,’ when it comes to making friends or socialising. 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.
It is also important 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.
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:
- help them understand what a friend is by using social stories or scenes from films or television programmes
- practice any new social skills with your child in different places and with different people
- include developing social skills within your child’s Independent Education Plan/Student Support File at school if they have one
- take part in buddy programmes or social clubs if there is one running in your child’s school, or set one up if there are none already