How to Help Children with Autism Make Friends

By sandra.caplesc…, 26 October, 2021
A group of children sitting on the grass and laughing at the camera.

Children are social animals. They like to interact with other children and find age-appropriate friends they can connect with. Unfortunately, for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it’s not that easy. Many kids with autism find it hard to make friends since they can’t read social cues like body language, facial expressions, and voice tone. That’s why 52% of kids with ASD don’t have many friends.

The idea of autistic children being friendless is a myth, according to research. They need a group of friends (and benefit from it) like any other normal child. However, because of their behavior, many peers find them odd and unusual. These differences can put children with autism spectrum disorder at risk of being bullied, making them hesitant to form friendships. However, this does not mean children with autism can’t learn social skills. An autistic child needs a nudge from behind, a more direct approach you can help with.

Read on to discover the steps you can follow to help your autistic child make friends.

Autism and Friendships

No child with autism spectrum disorder is the same. They perceive the world in unique ways, but most have one symptom in common: they have persistent issues with social communication. It’s crucial to begin encouraging children on the autism spectrum to develop friendships as early as possible. A recent study showed that teenagers and adults with autism are less likely to suffer from depression or anxiety.

Friends are vital for children to develop socially and emotionally. Furthermore, it makes a child more confident. Having a friend is a beautiful experience, and it teaches the autistic child to manage emotions better, respond to people’s feelings, and cooperate with others. Some of the skills your child might learn through friends include:

  • Having normal conversations
  • Adjust to a new social situation
  • Solving social problems such as a disagreement
  • Meeting people with similar interests
  • Taking part in activities

When an autistic child appears withdrawn and indifferent to people, other children will avoid him and stop initiating contact. Also, they won’t understand why a child with autism has meltdowns, why it’s harder to give them comfort, or why they prefer to play alone. But learning to create lasting relationships is not impossible for a child with an autism spectrum disorder.

“Will my child ever have friends?”

As a worried parent, you probably often ask yourself this. Seeing your autistic child lonely makes your heartbreak, and you constantly think about your child’s somewhat unclear future. Would he ever be able to attend a regular school? Will he be able to start a family or find a loving partner? Yes. If you set aside your worries and develop a plan, your child will surely succeed in life and make friends. However, it won’t magically happen in one day. You have to be patient and remain positive, no matter how hopeless the situation looks.

Tips for Making Friends

Make them understand what a friend is

A child with autism probably doesn’t understand what a friend is (or how important a friendship is), so you’ll need to define it. Some children perceive bullies as friends, for example. Friends are nice people that are interested in what you do. It might seem like a basic concept, but it works. Keep it simple and help children understand this concept, as children with autism have a more challenging time processing information. Use clear and plain language and explain how better your child will feel on a bad day with a friend around.

Find Common Interests

Your autistic child enjoys a lot of specific activities, so you know his interests. For this to work, find other kids (or groups) that share the same interests. When your child is doing something that he likes, he’ll pay more attention to his surrounding peers. Maybe your child likes to play a particular video game, but he never tried it with a potential friend. It’s also essential to expose your child to different activities, not only the ones he already enjoys. Children must experience new things to find something else of interest. Common interests are also crucial for developing and maintaining friendships. Make sure that similar-aged peers surround your child.

Invite Potential Playmates

A lot of autistic kids feel more relaxed in their own home than anywhere else. But be careful: some don’t like having their favorite things touched. Put them away when inviting someone over and organize other exciting stuff to do. Ask your child if they have someone in their class they’d like to get to know better and invite them over. At home, your child will focus better on social interaction.

Plan fun activities and encourage cooperative play, but it’s important not to feel discouraged if your autistic child is not interested yet. Make sure that the playmate is aware of what autism is. 

You can try using a ball pit or a trampoline to encourage fun activities. 

Teach Social Skills

If your child feels uncomfortable in social situations, you can practice specific scenarios with them. Conversations are unpredictable and involve an immediate response, so your child with ASD will avoid dialogue. One-on-one private teaching lessons will prepare him for sudden interactions. Kids with autism need a little more time to learn a new skill, so repeat it until they get it. Practice having a friend, what questions they might ask, how to share toys with other children. You can also help your child understand the different emotions, facial expressions, and body language.

READ MORE: What Is Sensory Integration Technology & How Can It Help Children with Autism? 

Give Positive Reinforcement

Your child needs to hear encouraging words from time to time, so don’t forget to praise him if he’s doing a good job. Point out any positive social behavior your child exhibits to reinforce the idea that repeating such behavior will yield positive responses. Praise and recognition will help your child build social skills, as well as a sense of self-esteem. Also, it’s best if you focus on long-term success because developing new skills takes time.

Don’t Get Discouraged

It’s easy to lose hope and think that your child will never have friends. While it may be harder for children with autism to make friends, it’s not impossible. It’s quality over quantity, after all. You need to develop a thick skin because not everyone, especially parents, will be open to letting their children play with yours. Don’t let your feelings keep you from doing what’s right for your baby. Keep focused and plan activities to bring your child out of his shell.

It’s also important to have fun. If your autistic child sees you act like playing with him is a chore, he’ll likely close up and avoid interacting with you. Support your child however you can, but if you can’t do it, ask for a therapist’s help. Early intervention is crucial for developing the necessary social skills. Your child doesn’t have to go through this alone, and he can live a fulfilling life surrounded by his loved ones.

READ MORE: How Cats Can Help Children with Autism Improve Social Skills