Developing Friendships: Tips for Children and Teens with Aspergers

Question

My daughter has difficulty socializing with her peers. One day, she has friends, and the next day no more. When conflicts arise, she doesn't know what to say, do. She doesn't know how to express in words her feelings. She tries, but it's confused. She sees things as black and white. How can I as a parent help her?

Answer

Here are some tips for those Aspergers (high functioning autistic) individuals who struggle with developing friendships:

1. Think about the person you want to be friends with. Anchor your thoughts on the other person. Here are some things to keep in mind:
  • How might they feel about what you want to say?
  • What might they think?
  • What do you know or remember about them?
  • What might they want to talk about?

2. Watch your non-verbal body language. Your physical presence ‘greases the wheel’ of conversation. How you present yourself physically will plant the seed in your friend’s mind that you want to talk to him/her. Here are some ideas to keep in mind:
  • Your shoulder and hip positions show whether you plan to stay and talk, or whether you just want to offer a quick message and leave.
  • Your body movements show what you plan to do next (e.g., do you want to stay, or do you want to leave?). Remember that your body posture and movements communicate messages to people, even if you don’t mean to.
  • Your body language and facial expression “talks” to people around you, showing them how you feel about things and how you feel about them.
  • It is critical to remember that effective communication is based on reading and understanding the body language and facial expressions of the people around us.
  • If your head, neck, shoulders, arms and hips are generally relaxed, you are showing the other person that you are at ease and comfortable with your communicative partners. At times, you need to physically relax your body to comfort your communicative partners.
  • How you stand and hold your body will show whether you want to talk to them or not.

3. Make eye-to-eye contact. Use your eyes to think about others and watch what they are thinking about. Eye contact is one of the mechanics of showing interest in people, but ‘thinking with the eyes’ is the broader concept that helps people with Aspergers understand the ‘why’ behind eye contact. It may be helpful to discuss eye contact and watch examples of proper eye contact. In this way, the individual with Aspergers will come to understand how to effectively use eye contact to talk with others.

One of the challenges that Aspergers individuals face is that they are very good at learning language, but do not always understand how to use language to build and maintain friendships. Language needs to be used to relate to the other individual’s beliefs, emotions, prior experiences and thoughts.

People with Aspergers are very talented at talking at length about areas that interest them. Unfortunately, they often talk “at” the other person rather than talking “with” them. As a result, others feel annoyed, mistakenly believing that the Aspergers person is self-centered. Here are some points to consider:
  • Add your own thoughts to connect your experiences to those of others.
  • Ask questions to learn more about people; make comments to show interest.
  • Listen with your eyes and ears to determine people’s intentions and hidden meanings.
  • Make comments that support a person’s idea, or add comments that support discussion of the idea without bluntly condemning other people’s thoughts.
  • Think about what you know about the person to whom you are talking.
  • Try connecting your ideas to things that are interesting to others.
  • Use small units of language (or body language) to support people’s ideas, or at least show you are actively listening.

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The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook

1 comment:

  1. Dr. Hutten,



    I really like you “Developing Friendships: Tips for Children and Teens with Aspergers” article. I’ll go over it with my son tonight. I will be pulling out the facial expression cards.



    Since you have a very good grasp on Aspergers, I was wondering if you could write an article on how to explain the difference between emotions. How Anger is different from Anxiety. That Boredom is not equal to Depression; Angry not equal to hate; Disappointed not equal to Hate; Disappointment not equal to Angry; and the hardest one of all, Friendly Teasing from Hurtful Teasing (This last one would probably have to be its own article.). He’s been shown the drawings of different emotions, but never had them explained.

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