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Helping Your Child With Autism Make Friends

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As a child, being without friends can not only make a child feel left out, but also angry at the fact the are unable to make/keep friends. Children who have been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome often do not have the social skills to pick up on subtle cues on the playground, or realize that their behavior may be hurting another.

As a parent, watching your child play alone can be devastating. The process of socialization that children develop in pre-school and kindergarten is often lost on a child with Asperger’s. Those skills can be gained, but often at a slower pace than one might like.

One of the things to remember is that your child will learn in time the skills needed to survive in many social situations. One may want to rush the process, but slowly bringing a child into a “play situation” will bring more rewards. Although your child may not pick up on social signals, that does not mean he or she cannot learn. Their brains works in a more black and white fashion than most. Simply telling your child to go and play in the sandbox with another child will set him up for failure. One must describe the situation to the child in a manner that a child understands as making a small change. Changes should occur slowly.

Helping your Child With Autism Make FriendsFor example, you may try a play date, but instead of leaving the children alone, you may need to watch and explain parts of the interaction to the child. Sharing can be difficult as the concept of sharing is somewhat complex. Children need to understand that other people have feelings, and that feelings can be good or bad. For example, if your child hits the other child, he or she may not know that they hurt the child and that the relationship is now fractured. A simple explanation may be, “John was having fun playing trucks. When you took his truck without asking it made him sad/not feel good. How would you feel if someone took your truck without asking?”

It is often the need for simplicity of explanations that makes a parent frustrated. A parent must remember that social skills are learned. And the knowledge of one’s actions affecting others is not something we are born with. Over time, children with Asperger’s Syndrome will make friends, just in a different way. Because of the natural inclination to play alone, children with Asperger’s generally have less friends, but the number of friends is not important, it is the quality of relationships that do exist. A child is learning and picking up on things even when you are not teaching. Too often a parent fears their child with Asperger’s will live a solitary life. And he may, but having a good sense of self can cancel out the need for constant play dates and more friends than one can count. Each relationship in a child’s life is meaningful, and a child may connect more with older kids or adults, and those are still significant relationships to take pride in.

-Susan Szakonyi is a mentor for Xcite Steps, a special needs service organization supporting, enriching and empowering the lives of kids, teens and adults with autism through a variety of social, behavioral and recreational therapies. To find out more please visit xcitesteps.com.

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