What To Do When Your Aspergers or HFA Child Can't Make Friends

Some parents of children with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) may discover that their youngster seems to have difficulty making and keeping friends, and this may first become apparent in preschool when children tend to start pairing off.

If your Aspergers or HFA child doesn't ever talk about anyone in his class, doesn’t ask to bring a friend home, never gets invited to any of his peers' homes, and seems to be a loner in general preferring to play by himself, then he might be having trouble in the friendship department (his teacher may be able to confirm your suspicions).

It may be that acquiring social skills doesn't come as naturally to your "special needs" youngster as it does to other children. He might need extra help developing the empathy and consideration that make others want to be around him.  Parents may need to rehearse the most rudimentary rules of social engagement with their son or daughter, beginning with scenarios as simple as “how to introduce yourself” (e.g., “Smile, look your friend in the eye and say, ‘Hi, my name is.... Can I play with you?’ Then play whatever your friend wants to play without insisting that the two of you play only what you want to play”).


Aspergers and HFA children need to understand when to reach out, pull back, blend in, speak up and let go. So, how can parents help their child make and keep friends?

To support the development of friendships in your youngster’s life, try some of these strategies:

1. Bear in mind that what made it easy for you as a child to forge friendships might not be your youngster’s style.

2. Build kid’s confidence by teaching them new games or skills.

3. Children tend to make friends by doing things together, so concentrate on activities.

4. Consider hiring a well-liked same-sex “babysitter-companion” with permission to pass on subtle tips about getting along.

==> Preventing Meltdowns and Tantrums in Asperger's Children

5. Demonstrate how to be a good friend and make friends. The best way is to model the behavior you would like to see. There are several ways you can accomplish this at home. For example: 
  • be kind, give compliments, wave to a friend, open the door for someone
  • be understanding of what others are going through by showing empathy
  • teach your kids to accept what can't be changed by working hard to change the things that can
  • have a sense of humor about yourself and your shortcomings
  • help your youngster realize his own strengths
  • listen to your youngster without criticism.

6. Emphasize good manners at home, including how to apologize or do favors for other children.

7. Encourage children to join Scouts.

8. Encourage having a few friends more than only one ‘best’ friend to avoid upset feelings when that youngster is unavailable or wants to play with others.

9. Even an youngster on the autism spectrum with average social skills may turn inward while experiencing major disruptions (e.g., parents' divorce, serious illness or death in the family, move to a new town, etc.). As much as possible, you should prepare your child for the changes by talking about what's happening and what to expect. For example, if you're moving, check out the new teacher, school or town in advance. Very gently encourage your son or daughter to take chances while praising him for little accomplishments. Also, have the expectation that things will work out.

10. Giving kids lots of unstructured time to play is important because they learn the social skills they need so they can keep playing and have fun.

11. Include your youngster when talking to people out of his normal range of peers. For example, take him to visit a neighbor, or bring him along to the dry cleaner. The more he is exposed to interacting with all kinds of people, the more he will learn to do the same.

12. It’s hard to go wrong with kindness, so encourage your youngster to express caring feelings for others.

13. Offer a variety of opportunities for play and socializing. Host friends over for play dates or lunch. See if you can participate in a carpool and sign-up your youngster for group activities (e.g., art, drama, dance, etc.). Exposing him to different areas of play will help him learn to socialize.

14. Remind the extremely shy or anxious child that everyone experiences rejection, and give him tips on recruiting friends (e.g., seek out the friendliest classmates).

15. Stay balanced when things are hard. Go ahead and empathize with your youngster’s pain, but keep it in perspective. Making friends is a lifelong process and will have its “ups and downs.” Pain, unfortunately, is a part of it. All kids will experience some form of ‘normal’ social pain in their friendships. We can support them by listening and acknowledging their feelings. Talk about your concerns (regarding your child’s lack of social skills) with other adults who can support you (e.g., a coach, teacher, friend, family member, etc.). You never want to share your anxiety about your child’s lack of friends with your child, so find someone who can help offer insight about your youngster or consult with professionals.

16. When it comes to training "special needs" kids, you will want to steer clear of humor as a relationship-builder, because it’s a subtle skill that often backfires into annoying other children.

17. Support your youngster’s choice of friends and welcome them to your home. Try to get to know his friends and their parents.

18. Talk to the youngster’s teacher. The teacher can really offer some perspective about whether this is a temporary glitch or is it a more ongoing problem or something typical for this age.

==> Discipline for Defiant Asperger's Teens

19. When your youngster acts in an especially friendly way, name it — and let him know you’re impressed.

20. Lastly, coach your youngster on the following social concepts (using words that he or she will understand, of course):

The Lonely Child on the Spectrum 

The Nature of Friendship:
  • Similarity and proximity. School–aged kids have a tendency to develop friendships with others who share similarities with themselves (e.g., gender, age, race, IQ, social status). As the youngster grows older, these traits become less important and he establishes friendships based upon similar interests and attitudes. As adolescence emerges, friends begin to seek conformity by dressing similarly and listening to the same music.
  • Reciprocity and support. All kids must share a degree of mutual respect and affection for each other if the friendship is to be lasting and meaningful. There needs to be a degree of equity between the two friends and a willingness to assist, guide, or comfort each other as necessary.
  • Mutual activities and shared interests. Childhood friendships often develop during school or extracurricular activities. Kids who are involved in such activities (e.g., sports teams, stamp clubs, chorus, drama, etc.) have common interests and values and often are quite compatible as social partners.
  • Intimacy, affection, and loyalty. Kids desire friends who can be trusted. They want their friends to share thoughts and feelings sensitively, and they demand loyalty from them. They need to feel that the friend will keep confidences and shared secrets. They also expect that the friend will not criticize them to others and are deeply hurt when this occurs. Kids expect the friend to view the relationship as a true commitment. Most childhood friendships that dissolve are destroyed by a perceived lack of commitment by one of the parties.

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