What To Do When Your Aspergers Child Doesn't Have Any Friends


My little guy does not have any friends. J___ will be 9 in Aug. He doesn't like sports, he's had a few rough experiences trying to fit in and play ball with his peers. He is not very coordinated i.e., he cannot ride a bike yet. He would be content riding a bike with training wheels - he is not AWARE that the other kids would make fun of him. He doesn't intuitively know what may trigger other children’s ridicule. My heart breaks for him. We went to the park the other day and he tried to play with 2 other boy's his age, one of them immediately told him to “shut up”. Kids are so cruel and notice “different” immediately. I have thought about home schooling him but I just don't think I have the patience (J___ is adopted …he is my stepdaughter’s biological child). My husband and I have raised him since he was 5 months old and for J___'s protection adopted him at age 3. At his request, after starting school, he calls us Mom and Dad. He loves to watch TV - could do it all day if allowed. He used to be into video games but seems to be bored with them right now. He enjoys reading but doesn't do it???? He is constantly asking to eat! Not sure if it's boredom or what. Thankfully he has skinny genes or he'd be in trouble. I don't know what I am asking; it feels like I could type for hours.


When an Aspergers (high functioning autistic) youngster doesn’t get acceptance from his peer group, parents have to find an organized way to work with him step by step to show him how to manage his daily life.

One thing to consider is that many Aspergers traits often don’t reveal themselves fully until the youngster starts school, although the issues have been there since birth. So when the youngster gets to kindergarten or first grade, parents might see that he has trouble reading, doing math or processing social situations. In reality, Aspergers has been there all along—it’s just surfacing in a different, more concrete way. By the time that youngster has been diagnosed, he’s probably already developed a very cautious way of looking at the world; he may already feel different and be working hard to hide it.

If you tell an Aspergers youngster, “C’mon, you’re just like the other children - don’t let it bother you,” that may make a bad problem worse because it sends a message to your youngster that he has control over whether or not he has a disorder, or the power to decide how it affects him. He’s going to walk away feeling like there’s something wrong with him, and he’s going to say to himself, “Nobody understands me, I really am different.” While Aspergers children may often learn how to manage the effects their Aspergers traits have on them, it usually takes a lot of work and effort on everybody's part—moms and dads, educators, and the children themselves—to make that happen.

What is your role as a parent in this situation? One job is to balance reassurance with coaching. When talking to your youngster, remind him that a lot of other Aspergers children have gone through the same thing and made it through okay. Give him some perspective on the issue – the knowledge that this is not the end of the world. Also, in your own mind, don’t let it be the end of the world.

This is the time to be a coach to your youngster. A coach reinforces and reminds children of skills that they have already acquired. A coach helps children to identify and develop the skills they need to solve a specific problem. Being a coach is one of the most precious things parents are to children. It’s a powerful thing to be able to help your youngster identify and solve his problems, because you’re giving him a tool that will aid him the rest of his life.

Also, continue setting limits even if your youngster is feeling bad or down. Let him know you still expect him to carry out his responsibilities and complete his tasks. If he is upset after school, say, “Well, take a few minutes and then let’s get started with homework.” He can feel bad for a certain amount of time, but then he has to start his homework or clean his room. Don’t let him be crippled by feeling bad – and don’t treat him like he is a cripple.

Limit-setting is very important during these times. You can be a loving and concerned parent, but it’s up to you to keep this problem in perspective. Your youngster may make the problem huge, so you have to be the one to say, “Yeah, that’s tough,” and then bring it down to its proper size (e.g., “It really hurts when this happens, but it happens. And even when we’re feeling this way, we still have to do our homework. We still have to talk nicely to our little brother. We still have to clean our room. We still have to eat dinner”). That way, your youngster is still being responsible and still keeping up with the tasks in his life.

Affirm what’s going on in your Aspergers youngster’s life and acknowledge that it’s hard for him. You can say things like, “It must be really tough to feel like you don’t get acceptance.” And then you can move to the offer of help: “I’m going to get us some help with that. I bet you’re not the only child that doesn’t feel like he fits in. I bet there are books out there and stuff we can find online that will help us.” You’re showing positive regard to your youngster, being comforting and being helpful.

Know that it’s a lot easier to start a relationship with one person than trying to get acceptance from a large group. When you talk with your youngster, tell him to deal with other children one at a time. You can say, “How about if you start with trying to find one friend first? Is there anyone at school who you might like to hang out with?” Suggest peers he might not have thought about before.

Teach your child to use positive self-talk. Positive self-talk is reasoning, soothing self-talk that helps you stay calm and keep your perspective. Children get anxious when they’re feeling left out or being picked on. Their adrenaline starts to pump, they think less clearly, and they panic. Positive, soothing self-talk is meant to bring them back down. In other words, it calms down their internal physical system, and accordingly, their thoughts.

Let your youngster know that help is out there, and that he doesn’t have to go it alone. If you freak out and start to panic about your youngster not “fitting in,” he’s going to think you think he’s a freak, too. So, it’s very important when children share their feelings of being different for you to remain calm. Often it’s very comforting for children to hear things like, “That happened to me when I was a child, and I know how much it hurts.” They feel comforted when you identify with their problem and empathize with them. Another way of doing that is to say, “That must feel awful for you.” That’s framing it for them and empathizing with them at the same time.

Remember, one of the best things you can ever ask your youngster is, “What would be helpful for you right now?” And then respect his need for space.

See if your youngster can find friends outside of school, in other circles, or places where they might meet other children with the same interests. Your youngster can join things like the Boy Scouts, where the uniform basically levels the playing field (everybody in the room has the same shirt on, so children stand out less in that crowd).

Teach children how to ask for help. Here’s a scenario: your youngster comes home upset because some children were laughing at him again at school. So you say, “Well, maybe you could ask your teacher to move you.” And if the next day your youngster says, “I did ask her, and she wouldn’t.” Say, “All right then, you did exactly the right thing. Now, let me talk to the teacher, I’ll see if I can be helpful.”

Teach children how to read social situations. So if there’s a group of children that doesn’t like your youngster or picks on him, your youngster needs to learn how to stay away from them and find other children who he gets along with. Maybe there are some shy children he can befriend or other children having a hard time. For some kids, reading social situations is more difficult than for others. But there are tools that can help moms and dads work with their children that will teach them how to read expressions and pick up on social cues.

Let your youngster “talk it out” — don’t try to make the problem seem like it’s not important, because in your youngster’s life, it’s huge. Yes, all children go through this. But maybe all children don’t go through what your child is going through.

When your youngster goes to school and gets picked on, you feel powerless as a parent. It frightens you and makes you angry, but really it’s a sense of powerlessness that you’re experiencing. You do everything you can to protect yourself in life, but when your youngster goes to school and gets hurt, you’re vulnerable too. The feeling of powerlessness is a personal feeling – and it’s a devastating one. Many moms and dads lose their objectivity when their youngster talks to them about being excluded, picked on or bullied. The technique for the parent here is to go take five minutes and calm down, talk it through with others if you can, work it out, but don’t overreact in front of your youngster. Sure, it’s very normal for moms and dads to feel powerless, and it’s very difficult for them not to overreact to that feeling. But know that when you feel powerless, your first response is not always the best response. In fact, there are generally two kinds of reactions when people feel powerless: (1) they stick their head in the sand, or (2) they strike out. Remember that neither one is helpful to a child!


•    Anonymous said... As a parent of an ASD son I can relate. Sports (team related do not usually work) for individual participation do seem to work. My son liked golf he did learn to ride a bun early due to his obsession with wheels. Don't give up finding the activities that he can learn to excel in, they are out there. The social interaction is the hardest, the ideals listed above are excellent.
•    Anonymous said... As the years go on my son started with one friend, then in high school he gained a few more. You just have to let him find the people he clicks with on his own.
•    Anonymous said... Great article and very helpful thank you
•    Anonymous said... I can relate with so much of this article and comments from others. My son is 11 and has not been officially diagnosed but I see so much of all the comments others shared in my son... He has only been riding a bike for about a year and a half, not real coordinated, but the social area is where I really see his differences even though he don't seem to notice it. Great article.
•    Anonymous said... I purposely seek out friends for my son (usually younger siblings of his sister's friends) who are at least 2-3 years younger than he is. They are nicer, more accepting, and don't seem to mind quirks as much.
•    Anonymous said... My son has made friends with the other ASD kids that we have meet in social groups, speech, ot and special needs activities. He has more friends than his NT brother and I have made some wonderful friends with the moms.
•    Anonymous said... Really great insight. We use a lot of these suggestions & it does help. Go with his interests. Sports are really difficult for most kids with Aspergers. Follow their interest....for our son it's art, and they'll have a better chance at finding a more like minded kid that is accepting of & "gets" them. It is so hard to see their pain & feel powerless to help at times.
•    Anonymous said... We have put our son in Cub Scouts, karate, and swimming. All individual activities but still has a social piece.

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