Parents always want the best for their children, hoping for positive interactions in their social life. For parents of children with autism, friendship can be a source of anxiety. Kids on the spectrum struggle with social interactions and their sensory limitations can limit their capacity for making new friends. How do you get them out of their comfort zone to interact with children their age and create new friendships? You want to see them fulfilled with meaningful interactions that will help solidify the skills that they need to work on. As a parent, you can help encourage your child’s friendships and help them learn to interact with other kids so they can connect with buddies that make them feel rejuvenated. Below is a list of things you can do to help your child make friends.
Find Opportunities To Interact Socially
Despite the social struggles, children with autism can form meaningful bonds of friendship as strong as any of their neurotypical peers. Many kids just need the right opportunity or environment to develop those bonds. One of the many ways that parents get their children to form friendships is through play dates. Playdates allow for meaningful interaction and a controlled environment. It’s important that you provide for the comfort of your child. Perhaps schedule play dates in your home rather than in an environment that might be uncomfortable to them, which can cause stress and anxiety. You can also use your child’s interests as a starting point for forming a friendship. If your child is interested in something like chess, a chess club is a great environment to stimulate their interests and offer them the opportunity to make new friends.
Help With Non-Verbal Communication
Parents of children with autism know that their children struggle with social communications. One of the most common ways that we communicate as humans is non-verbally through body language, gestures, and posturing. Often these indications can be hard for people with autism to catch on to. When your child has a playdate, you can help them to understand non-verbal communication between them and their friend by observing the children and pointing out very clearly what non-verbal cues their friends are exhibiting. You can even use visual cues to help them understand certain non-verbal cues and what they mean. Children want to understand. Be patient with them while they learn these things and they will get better at forming lasting friendships.
Improve Social Skills At Home
There are a lot of steps you can take at home to help improve communication which will help improve friendships. Reading is an activity that you can do with your child to help build their vocabulary and increase their comprehension skills. It’s also an activity that can help them understand complex emotions through the scope of their favorite characters. Family can be crucial in helping children with autism formulate friendships. Sibling interaction can be a model for positive encounters with new friends, but sibling relationships can be very different from friendships. Build their interests up at home and help them to take those things into meaningful friend encounters.
Let Your Kids Be Who They Are
When your child is still working out how to make friends, don’t create too many expectations for them. Just because you might have been a social butterfly when you were the same age as your child, doesn’t mean that they will be the same. They may have many friends or they may only have one or two close buddies. It’s really about the quality, rather than quantity, of friends that children with autism choose to hang out with. As we watch our children grow and formulate important friendships with peers, we look back at memories of our own formative friends and sometimes make expectations off of those memories. Children deserve the room to form bonds in a way that’s meaningful to them. You might be tempted to try to get them to be friends with the offspring of your best friends, so the whole family can hang out at the same time. While this seems like it might be a good idea, it’s important to respect their individual choices when they pick their friends.
Professional Models For Friendship
You can do a lot as a parent to help your child build their social skills and form lasting bonds of friendship. Sometimes, one of the best things you can do is seek help from positive professional figures in your child’s life. Teachers can model good social interactions and teach children about friendships. Many young people with autism can also learn to expand their social skills in occupational therapy or with other direct-care staff that help them expand their world view.
Lexington is a great place for children to learn social skills and formulate the bonds of friendship. Our members interact in classrooms designed for students with autism, expanding their social skills and academic understanding with peers that share their perspective. Contact Lexington today for more information.
If you want to find out more about this and other subjects, check out our previous blog.