Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders


"Isolation-Preference" in Children on the Autism Spectrum

“Is it typical for a child with High Functioning Autism to not have any friends? My son prefers to play by himself. Is this normal? Any suggestions on how to help him make some friends?”

Kids with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger’s (AS) do indeed experience difficulty developing relationships, responding appropriately, and interacting with others with ease. Certain qualities of human interaction are very difficult for these children.

Typically, people communicate with each other through verbal (e.g., speech) as well as nonverbal (e.g., eye-to-eye gaze, gestures, body posture, etc.) communication. While verbal ability is often a strength for children with HFA and AS, nonverbal communication is usually an area of difficulty. They tend to overlook - or don’t recognize - the meaning behind another person’s gestures or facial expressions. This means that they frequently miss the cues they are given that the other person wants to leave, is getting bored, or wants to say something herself. Professionals refer to this phenomenon as impaired social interaction.

Impaired social interaction means that the HFA or AS child has difficulty making and keeping friends. As can be imagined, interacting with someone who does not understand or use nonverbal communication can be awkward. As a result, some people avoid the HFA or AS child, and relationships do not develop.

When friendships do occur, they are usually built on a shared area of interest. That interest is typically the focus of the intense interest and preoccupation of the child on the autism spectrum. Maintaining such friendships can be difficult because the child can be rigid and inflexible regarding the area of interest. In other words, his conversation rarely addresses other topics, and he tends to be the center of any conversation about the topic (leaving the other person to listen rather than contribute to a discussion). Because the HFA or AS child is so focused on this interest, he often knows a great deal of detailed information about it. This can often be intimidating to other kids who do not feel as much like an “expert.”

Impaired social interaction also encompasses the disturbing social situations that many kids on the spectrum encounter. The term “playground predator” has often been used to describe kids who intentionally and vindictively single out a “special needs” youngster for teasing and taunting. Bullies often pick on kids who are “easy targets” and vulnerable. With their difficulties understanding nonverbal cues and having limited social support, young people with HFA and AS are often the targets of bullies. This results in even more “isolation-preference” (i.e., preferring to play alone).

Click here for information on how to help your HFA or AS child to make and keep friends…

The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook


•    Anonymous said… yes it is I myself have aspergers and my mother told me even in preschool id be by myself while other children were playing. try finding something that he really loves because people with aspergers form obsesions with things ie electronics, cars, music. For me it was swords and i found a friend who also liked them. try finding an interest he has and see if there are any that share that. i hope this helps.
•    Anonymous said… Social skills classes starting as early as possible and ABA. My child is thriving socially and had a lot of therapy starting at age 3. She's 5 now.
•    Anonymous said… A lot of kids with HFASD desire friends but struggle to make and then keep them. I have a son who is now almost 18 and has made 1 friend who is very similar to him - other people wouldn't recognise their relationship as a friendship as even when they are in the same room they don't talk to each other and they don't organise get togethers etc! However, throughout his whole life my boy has been very comfortable with his own company and so the only person the lack of friends thing bothered was me. Let it be - he will make a friend or two at some stage and his company will probably be much enjoyed by older people including workmates when he gets to that stage as they get on better with older and younger people rather than their peer group.

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