Friendships are hard for everyone, but especially for a person who has been diagnosed with autism. For some people it is easy to make friends. Even someone who has autism may have a kind hearted greeting and interest in people, but maintaining friendships is the difficulty. They need guidance, encouragement, and examples of how to be a friend. Role playing different conversations that help maintain friendships is a good start.
I have noticed in most autistic people, they genuinely have caring, merciful, and loving personalities. As they mature, they feel it is important to have friends but they see it’s difficult for them to maintain and then just give up. I believe these individuals need to feel important, they matter and that they can contribute to society. With confidence, they feel brave to meet, talk, and develop relationships with people.
There are many ways to help them develop lifelong friendships. First, talk to your therapists and ask if they have social groups your child can get involved in. These groups work together and are taught how to carry a conversation with someone, go on field trips together, and hold special events. You can discuss what goals you have for your child and they can work specifically on those during their gatherings. I would start with one or two goals and change the goals as your child matures.
Look for interests your child/young adult have and join clubs like, music, photography, science, theatre and video games. Since COVID-19, sports and events have be postponed. Because of this, there are more groups that do virtual activities of interests. I am a Special Olympic advocate, whether your child likes/dislikes sports, there is a place for them. There are a variety of sports in the KC area to get involved such as adaptive sports teams, health and fitness programs, and athlete leadership programs. They also get together for crafts, themed events, and entertainment for high schoolers/adults. If you’re interested, contact them to see what kind of programs they provide for special needs.
If your child is high school/adult age, start a game night or movie night once a month with different themes to encourage friendships. Camps are another way to develop friendships. They spend the day or a week on their own, building social skills and sometimes creating friendships for life.
When meeting with friends, encourage your son/daughter to be themselves. Friendship is based on mutual interest, someone who likes you and wants to be with you. They should learn to compliment, respect other views, and avoid bragging. When friends are going through a hard time, have your son/daughter encourage, listen, and help meet the needs of their friends.
I’d encourage finding out what your community provides, try it out. Don’t give up just because they might not want to do it now, later as they mature, they might want to get together with others.
Sheila T. Parent & Teacher