One of the most difficult obstacles for a child with autism to overcome is making friends. Being a mother of three children on the autism spectrum, I have witnessed my children make some missteps in trying to find friends. Here are the most obvious ones:
Trying to be the “Rules Police”
Many kids on the Spectrum can be rigid in the following of rules, even small ones. Yes, rules are made to be followed, but kids don’t take kindly to their age mates telling them what they are supposed to do. Pointing out their small infractions won’t gain any friends. Unless it is a matter of safety, leave the enforcement of rules to the adults. It’s their job.
Assuming the Worst
Sometimes it is hard to know when someone makes a mistake whether or not it was an accident. He hit you? As he was turning around? Are you sure it was on purpose? Children on the Spectrum often read motives into other peoples’ actions that are not necessarily intended. Because of theory of mind issues, the child tends to see the world from only his viewpoint. His motives become everyone’s’ motives. This means it is hard for him to give people the benefit of the doubt.
Talking Only About a Pet Subject
While passion over interests is appreciated, no one wants to listen to an ongoing monologue about washing machines, video games or anything else. Conversation is two-way, and it is important to listen to others’ contributions. Everyone wants to feel as though they count.
Spoiling for a Fight
Impulse control is a problem for children on the Spectrum, and it is easy for the child to read situations incorrectly. Lack of control coupled with perceived slights can lead to blow ups, arguments and sometimes even physical violence.
Knowing It All
No one wants to feel stupid, and pointing out others’ failings is the quickest path to no friends. Because children with autism tend to be very literal, it is easy for them to pick apart the accuracy of their peers information. These children don’t mean any harm, they just don’t always realize the implications of finding every tiny mistake. Often, children on the Spectrum lack empathy, and forget there are feelings behind the people.
If you coach your child in these five areas, he can grow to become a friend to others. Through role-playing, social stories and practice, he will learn to sidestep the mistakes that can keep him from success in friendships.
photo copyright J Stephen Conn, used under creative commons. image depiction does not indicate disability
Tina Cruz is a writer, wife and mother of three children. The two youngest children have high-functioning autism and the oldest has undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome tendencies. She advocates for autism awareness and education, as well as acceptance. She views autism as a growth process and the opportunity to connect parents for support as a privilege. She is the editor of the Special Needs channel here at Typeamom. Her personal blog can be found at Send Chocolate. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or comments.