Friendship & Autism

buddiesAs this week is National Friendship Week, I thought I would use this topic to take a deeper look into autism and friendship, specifically some of the challenges many children and families experience. Of course, the first caveat is “if you know one child with autism, you know one child with autism.” Certainly, what I’m sharing does not apply to all, but hopefully I can offer some general considerations that you may find work for you.

Yes, some children with autism experience communication challenges and have trouble with social interactions. They may shy away from the simplest conversation, avoid eye contact, and appear to be “uninterested.” However, that does not mean that they don’t want to have friends. They may simply lack the social skills for developing friendships.

In reviewing a number of studies, results consistently show that compared to typically developing children, children with autism experienced significantly more loneliness than their typical peers, and that their quality of friendships was poorer, in terms of companionship, security, and help.

I know that in Ryan’s case, developing friendships was something that was important to me but not as important to him. He was most content in interacting with adults who were patient enough to take the time to listen to him and ask thoughtful questions. They were not bothered by his repetitions, nor by his desire to speak about his interests only. Looking back on his school years, I am hard-pressed to even identify one peer who was a friend, a sad commentary on his school career.

What can we do as parents and educators to meet this challenge?

  • Be patient when the person speaks. It may take him/her longer to express a complete thought. Auditory processing difficulties are present in many children.
  • Communicate clearly, in short sentences, with a reasonable pace and volume. If the child is non-verbal, use a picture or a communication board.
  • Plan ahead by making play dates, if possible with typical peers.
  • ebuddiesInvestigate the Best Buddies program – bestbuddies.org. If there is not a chapter at your school, consider working with administration to start one. Ryan participated in ebuddies (ebuddies.org), and thoroughly engaged with his buddy via the computer.
  • There are also numerous activities that you can do with your child to help improve his/her social skills: LINK. Ryan and I, during his preschool years, would have staring contests – Who could look at each other the longest without turning away?

During this National Friendship Week, think about the friendships that you and your child may have, and identify ways to strengthen them!

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3 Responses to Friendship & Autism

  1. Norah says:

    It sounds like great advice, and well timed for friendship week. I didn’t know it was friendship week either, so thanks for letting me know.

  2. stephanie says:

    I enjoyed your blog on friendship and your story. We choose a private school for my son and I’m happy to say he has 2 really good friends who like him and want to play with him. Since it is a small school he has the same classmates every year which I feel has helped him develop those friendship. As a parent I have also made it my priority to get to know their family so I feel comfortable letting him have play time at their home. His best friend is definitely his older brother and as she grows his sister is becoming a good playmate and friend. Its also helpful these friends like dinosaurs too! Smile

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