If parents set their expectations right, it is in fact easy to understand how to help children with autism to develop social skills and make friends. Of course, they are not going to be socializing like regular children and friendship for children with autism have a different meaning.
But you will be surprised how much you can achieve with patience and a little care. The first step in teaching your child with autism to socialize is helping them understand what a friend is. Sounds basic, right? But starting with the basics is critical for developing social skills. We have seen children who think of bullies as friends, for example, so this distinction matters.
Communication is key in making children with autism understand what you are trying to make them understand. In order to achieve a successful exchange of words and actions, use simple language. For example, ask, “Do you like to spend time with somebody who calls you names?” And “Do you like to spend time with someone who is nice to you?”
Filler and Fluff have no Place in Your Child’s World
Be careful and understanding before setting and trying to achieve your social goals. A gift that children with autism have is that you can be direct with them. They appreciate straightforward communication. You can be literal, because your child will be, too. Avoid saying abstract things like, “Friends are people who care for the real you and accept you for who you are.” Instead, say, “Friends treat you nicely, ask you what you like or want to do, and say things to make you feel better when you are having a tough time.”
If your child really loves chess, find a chess club. If your child loves art, sign up for an art class. These offer built-in interests and conversation points — and a fun setting for social interaction.
Just be sure the setting includes kids of the same age. When practicing social skills, it’s important for your child to be surrounded by age-appropriate behaviour.
Parents often fear the public setting. Perhaps you’ve experienced one too many meltdowns. I understand that, but getting your child out into social settings is crucial for practicing social skills. You can minimize behaviour risks by involving your child in planning. If you’re planning a trip to the zoo with the family, have your child help pick snacks to take and develop a schedule, for example.
The idea applies to planning a hang-out session with a friend, too. Have your child think about activities he or she wants to do and this new friend may want to do. Then plan a schedule together that incorporates both. Doing this teaches the social compromise involved in all friendships.