Too often, it is assumed that children, teens and adults with autism have no interest in making friends or developing relationships. This, however, is not necessarily true. They may simply lack the skills to connect with others or to show their willingness to want to make friends. According to Chantal Sicile-Kira, author of Adolescents on the Autism Spectrum, on her blog on AutismCollege.com, "The adults I have interviewed make it clear they enjoy having relationships, including those who are mostly non-verbal..." She explains there are a number of reasons why they have a hard time making friends:
- They may play alongside, rather than with other children
- They may have difficulty taking turns and waiting for their turn
- Others may be put off, thinking they are rude because they do not make eye contact
- They don't pick up on facial expression or body language
- They may not be good at small talk because they aren't interested in it or don't understand it
A special class at UCLA designed to help teens with autism interact with their peers showed great promise. Elizabeth Laugeson, clinical instructor of psychiatry at UCLA explained that "...they typically lack the ability to pick up on all the social cues most of us take for granted - things like body language, hand gestures and facial expressions, along with speech inflections like warmth, sarcasm or hostility." Laugeson and her colleagues developed a class to help high-functioning teens with autism social skills. Parents of teens attending the class were required to attend a separate class and given instruction on how to help their children follow the specific instructions laid out in the class.
The class taught rules of social etiquette, such as joining and exiting a group of peers, picking the right group of friends (jocks, nerds, gamers), learning good sportsmanship, being a good host, changing "bad" reputations and handling teasing. Classes included a combination of instruction, role-playing, behavioral rehearsal, coaching and homework assignments, such as inviting a friend over. After completing the class, parents reported "significant improvement in overall social skills."
Most parents, however, don't have access to such a class. Sicile-Kira, on her blog, offers some suggestions for parents to help their teens make friends:
- Play with your child, using what he wants to play with and how he wants to play, in order to emotionally connect.
- Teach your child about body language and social cues.
- Teach your child how to begin and end conversations and what types of topics to talk about.
- Find groups or clubs in your area that fit their special interests
Additionally, she suggests that if your child is having trouble making eye contact, to have them look at the other person's ear to make it seem as if they are making eye contact.
"How can we help our children and teens with autism make friends?," 2011, April, Chantal,Sicile-Kira, AutismCollege.com
"Teaching Autistic Teens To Make Friends," 2009, April 8, Staff Writer, ScienceDaily
"Tips on helping your child and teen with autism make friends," 2011, April, Chantal Sicile-Kira, AutismCollege.com
Published On: June 26, 2011