One of the most troubling aspects of autism spectrum disorder is the apparent isolation of the children due to their difficulty communicating. Parents usually really want their children with autism to have friends. How can this be achieved when language is so difficult for the children? Special methods can be used to help children with autism learn how to have friends. Children are all different and what works for one may not work for others. Following are ways to facilitate and encourage children with autism to have friends:
1. Obtain Social Skills Training
Children with autism usually find social interactions difficult. This is because the “rules” of being social often involve complex language skills which children with autism often do not have. Social skills must be learned therefore in order for children with autism to have a greater chance of making friends with others. In addition to the child’s regular therapies, the child should be enrolled in social skills training groups. These skills work on skills such as taking turns, not invading another person’s personal space, and sharing. It is important to seek out and find a social skills group in your area. If there isn’t one, start one yourself with the help of a speech and language pathologist. The possible rewards are great: your child’s first friends ever may come from this group.
2. Use Social Stories
Children with autism often experience anxiety in relation to social situations. One way to alleviate this and help your child have friends is to use social stories. Social Stories were invented by Carol Gray and are available at The Gray Center at www.thegraycenter.org. The Social Story is a written and illustrated tale of what is going to happen in a social situation. You read it with your child and then they have some idea of what to expect in an upcoming social situation.
3. Use Alternative Ways Such as Videos to Explain Social Skills
There are videos that explain social rules. Also some parents videotape their child in social situations and then review the video with the child later. Always emphasize the positive in the video of the child. In other words, praise what they did correctly. Children often enjoy watching videos of themselves.
4. Enroll the Child in Classes Related to His Special Interest
Many children with an autism spectrum disorder have a special interest. These special interests are often very intense. Parents occasionally become exasperated with the special interests as they can take on a very obsessive quality. Nevertheless, special interests provide parents with an opportunity. If the child is enrolled in a special class related to his interest, he will have a chance to make friends with others who share his likes. If the special interest happens to be technology- related (photography for example,) then there will be less language necessary to interact with others. Attending a photography class gives the older language- challenged child an alternative means to communicate. He could show other people his pictures and use his interest in images to make friends.
The above are four ideas to assist children with autism in having friends. Having friends can really enrich an individual’s enjoyment of life. It is a worthy goal.
Ozonoff, S. A Parent’s Guide to Asperger Syndrome & High Functioning Autism. (2002) New York, NY: Guilford Press