Teaching Your ASD Child "How To Be A Good Friend"

Many children on the autism spectrum tend to have an Avoidant/Anxious attachment style in which they typically repress the desire to seek comfort from their parents or other caretakers when scared, distraught, or in pain. Instead, they rely heavily on self-soothing behaviors as a way to deal with such uncomfortable emotions. For example:
  • rocking
  • pacing
  • twirling hair
  • sucking thumbs and various objects
  • hitting or head banging
  • pulling hair, eyebrows or lashes
  • picking skin or nose
  • grinding teeth
  • cracking knuckles
  • biting nails, lips, cheeks, pencils, etc.

Even at a very young age, many Avoidant/Anxious kids tend to be independent “little adults,” relying very little on others for help. Unfortunately, their tendency to be self-sufficient and unsociable can leave parents feeling a bit rejected. Furthermore, the fact that they rarely demonstrate a desire for warmth, love, closeness or affection tends to discourage support from parents – and even siblings. Many moms and dads have reported that their High-Functioning Autistic (HFA) child is often aloof and doesn’t like to be touched or hugged.

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

As these children enter school, many appear to be more aggressive, hostile and emotionally isolated than their “typical” peers. On the playground, they may be the students who bully their classmates. As teenagers, they tend to be disliked by both peers and educators. Also, they are less emotionally involved with their parents and siblings.

Perhaps the saddest aspect of this attachment style is that these children have great difficulty in finding and keeping friends. This is often due to the fact that they lack an understanding of basic social skills, don’t know what to say or do around their peers, withdraw from others and choose to spend time alone rather than run the risk of trying to “connect,” and decide that staying to oneself is the less painful option. Many parents report that their HFA child prefers to play alone. In addition, these children often annoy their peers by butting-in during games, interrupting conversations, rambling on about their special interest or favorite topic, cut in line, make rude comments (with no intention of being rude), and so on.

Some children with an Avoidant/Anxious attachment style are significantly “asocial” (i.e., they lack the motivation to engage in social interaction, have a preference for solitary activities, have limited social expressiveness, have low sensitivity to social cues, emotions, and pragmatic use of language). Asocial tendencies become acutely noticeable in these kids from a young age due to deficits in crucial social development skills (e.g., social and emotional reciprocity, eye-to-eye gaze, gestures, normal facial expressions and body posture, sharing enjoyment and interests with others, etc.). Some of these young people really want to be social, but fail to socialize successfully, which can lead to later withdrawal and asocial behavior – particularly in the teenage years.

Friendship skills come fairly easily to “typical” kids. But, unfortunately for children on the autism spectrum, these skills must be taught. If you have a child on the autism spectrum, then you have a child who is socially and emotionally immature. Thus, parents must coach their child in social and friendship skills. In order to find and keep friends, your child must cultivate the skills to BE a “good” friend. Then – and only then – will he or she attract peers and turn the relationship into a friendship.

Here are a few tips for how parents can coach their autistic child on how to be a good friend:

1. Be a good role model. Try to find a lot of opportunities for your child to observe you being nice to someone (e.g., having a casual conversation with a stranger in the line at the grocery).

2. Give your youngster the words and behaviors to enter into - and exit - others’ play group (e.g., “If you want to join in the game that they are playing, then ask ‘can I play too’.”). Also, give him the words and behaviors to include other peers in his play group (e.g., “Would you like to play with us?”).

3. Help your child to be a “behavior observer.” Teach him to pay attention to the actions of other kids as they relate to one another (e.g., at the park, playing a board game, etc.). Then discuss with him what was observed and what things demonstrated good friendship skills (e.g., “Did you notice that Michael is being good about waiting for his turn?”), as well as the things that did NOT demonstrate these skills (e.g., “Did you see Sarah jerk that toy away from Carlie? That’s not being a very good friend.”).

4. Help your child to recognize what traits HE wants in his friends (e.g., someone who shares, plays fair, doesn’t push or hit, doesn’t call people bad names, etc.).

5. Help your youngster to develop the ability to observe the impact of his behavior on others (e.g., “I noticed that when you called your friend ‘stupid’, she looked like her feelings were hurt.).

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

6. Let your child witness you spending time with YOUR friends.

7. Notice and acknowledge successes. In order to help your youngster see when he is using good friendship skills, comment specifically on what he does in his friendships that shows he cares (e.g., “When Kayla fell down and hurt her leg, you offered to help her up and took her to a chair so she could to sit down. That’s you being a good friend!”).

8. Watch movies and read books about friendship.

9. Role play how to be a good friend.

10. Lastly, post the following (with pictures if possible) in a very prominent place (e.g. refrigerator door):

I am a good friend because...

•    I am reliable
•    I do kind things for my friends
•    I use kind language with my friends
•    I like to have fun with my friends
•    I help out when my friends are sad or have a problem
•    I like spending time with my friends
•    I remember my friends’ birthdays
•    I like to share with my friends

In a worst case scenario, the HFA child wants so desperately to “fit-in” with his peer group, but fails miserably – time and time again – due to the lack of skills in this area. As a result, he “gives up” and even has a pervasive sense of anxiety about ever trying again. He simply avoids “connecting” to friends as a way to cope with feelings of rejection.

If your best efforts to help your child “be a good friend” fall short, a mental health professional can design a treatment plan that is appropriate for the child who exhibits an Avoidant/Anxious attachment style. Treatments vary, but they will likely include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). If a co-existing condition (e.g., depression, anxiety, etc.) is also diagnosed, appropriate medications can be used.

Share with your child:

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:

==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD


Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

Does your AS or HFA child's behavior confuse and frustrate you? Have you often wondered how his mind works? Are you frequently stressed-out due to your child's meltdowns and tantrums? Do you feel that you have wasted a lot of time and energy trying to get him to change?

Then listen to this: Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism.

Parenting High-Functioning Autistic Children

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==>  Parenting High-Functioning Autistic Children <==

This is a support group and educational resource for parents raising children on the "high functioning" end of the autism spectrum (i.e., HFA, Asperger's).

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Helping Non-Autistic Children Cope with Their Asperger’s or HFA Sibling

"What suggestions have you tried regarding helping the siblings of your autistic child to have more compassion. When they try to play with our autistic child, it always ends badly as he has to make up and enforce a set of rules for whatever game they are playing at the time - so we are in the position of having to keep them apart."

As a mother or father, you want to give all your kids equal attention. But when parenting a youngster with Asperger’s (AS) or High Functioning Autism (HFA), that can be difficult. Your “special needs” youngster has more challenges and obstacles – and may take more of your time. As a result, your other children may begin to feel left out.

In addition to feeling left out, siblings of an AS or HFA youngster may experience the following:
  • trying to make up for the deficits of their sibling
  • frustration over not being able to engage – or relate to – their sibling
  • embarrassment around friends
  • concern regarding their parents’ anxiety
  • concern over their role in future caretaking
  • being the target of aggressive behaviors

Due to the nature of AS and HFA, it may be tough for your non-autistic children to form a satisfying relationship with the sibling who has the condition. For instance, their attempts to play with their sibling may be rejected, may turn into a fight due to his or her lack of play skills, or may end suddenly due to his or her meltdowns and tantrums.

The parent needs to understand what the non-autistic kids may be thinking and feeling. These kids love their AS or HFA sibling. They want to understand why there are some things that he or she can’t do, and how they can help. By honestly answering their questions in an age-appropriate way, the parent can clear up any confusion, help ease worries, and give the other children a chance to help out.

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

How to help your non-autistic children cope with their AS or HFA sibling:

1. Preschoolers are self-centered by nature. Your non-autistic preschooler may feel that everything is about him and what he wants — from the toy he wants to play with to the game he asks for at the mall. As a result, helping him understand why his AS or HFA sibling needs more of your time and attention can be difficult. When possible, try to spend one-on-one time with your non-autistic youngster. Even a few minutes spent watching a cartoon or allowing him to help you cook a meal can provide the quality parent-child time that he needs.

2. When your children ask about their AS or HFA sibling's disorder, explain it using simple, honest descriptions they can understand. For example, if they ask why their brother only eats chicken nuggets and fruit, you can say something such as, "He has trouble eating certain foods because he has Asperger Syndrome." If they ask, "What is that?" …state in simple terms that it's a disorder that makes certain foods taste bad.

3. Younger children tend to have a wild imagination. So, the monster in the closet is very real, and the tea at the tea party is very hot. When children have a sibling with AS or HFA, their imagination might lead them to worry that their sibling’s disorder is contagious, like the flu. Reassure them that they can’t "catch" a disorder like Asperger’s, and that nothing they did caused their sibling to have this disorder – it is nobody’s "fault."

4. Don't let your children make you think that everything always has to be "fair" and "equal" — sometimes one kid needs more than the other, whether or not he/she has a disorder.

5. As your children start to better understand the "why" of their sibling’s diagnosis, you will probably get more complicated questions from them. For instance, for questions about their sibling’s meltdowns, your response may be: "He has trouble putting his feelings into words, so he throws things to express his feelings." Then, the next question may be, "Will he ever be able to tell us how he feels?" …to which you can answer honestly: "Yes he will, but we have to help him calm down and show him how to use words instead of acting-out. That's why he goes to his therapist.”

 ==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

6. Don't spend any time trying to figure out which youngster is to blame for a dispute. It takes two to argue — everyone involved is partly responsible. That includes your AS or HFA child.

7. If arguments between your AS or HFA child and his/her siblings are frequent, consider holding weekly family meetings in which you repeat the rules about fighting – and review past successes in reducing conflicts.

8. At some point, your children may try to explain their AS or HFA sibling's disorder to their peers. Some of their friends may ask rude questions, make inappropriate comments, or even engage in teasing and bullying. This, of course, can leave your AS or HFA youngster feeling ashamed, hurt, or angry. Parents can help their children cope with this situation by rehearsing some conversations. For example, “If one of your friends says ‘what's wrong with your brother?’ … you can say ‘he has autism’. If your friend says ‘what’s that?’ …then you can say ‘it’s something that makes my brother act differently than we do’.”

9. Consider establishing a program where all your children earn points toward a fun family-oriented activity when they work together to curtail arguing and fighting.

10. Sibling rivalry occurs in all families, but in those cases where one child has “special needs” – and therefore gets “special attention” – the incidents of sibling rivalry can be more frequent and more intense. Jealousy is common, and claims that “you love him more than me” abound. After all, they may see their AS or HFA sibling occasionally being allowed to stay up later, being excused from doing chores, getting extra help with homework, not being made to eat his vegetables, and so on. Comparisons are typical, but parents can explain to their non-autistic children that while it seems unfair, their AS or HFA sibling has to have this extra help due to his disorder. As an analogy, one parent stated, “If your brother was crippled and had to have a wheel chair to get around, would you complain that he has a wheel chair and you don’t?”

11. If your kids frequently quarrel over the same things (e.g., video games, the TV remote, etc.), post a schedule showing which youngster "owns" that item at what times during the day or week. If this doesn’t work and they keep arguing about it, take the item away altogether.

12. As your children become adolescents, you may find that you rely more on them to keep an eye on their AS or HFA sibling or to help around the house. As a result, they may feel increased pressure to care for their sibling, and may even become resentful. So, try not to ask too much of your non-autistic children. Make some responsibilities (e.g., helping with homework, babysitting, etc.) a choice. This will help them feel that they have control over how much assistance they provide. For instance, you might say, "It would be great if you could help your brother with his Math homework, but if you have other plans, that's fine."

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

13. Make sure children have their own time and space to do their own thing (e.g., to enjoy activities without having to share, to play with friends without a sibling tagging along, to play with toys by themselves, etc.).

14. Remember, as children deal with sibling-conflict, they also learn important skills that will serve them well later in life (e.g., how to compromise and negotiate, how to control aggressive impulses, how to value another person's perspective, etc.). So in essence, some sibling conflict is actually a good thing.

15. In some families, the sibling rivalry between the non-autistic child and his or her “special needs” sibling is so severe that it disrupts daily functioning, or drastically affects one or both of them psychologically and emotionally. In this case, parents should seek the assistance of a mental health professional. Get outside help if the conflict is related to other significant concerns (e.g., anxiety, depression, etc.), is so severe that it's causing marital problems, is damaging to the psychological well-being or self-esteem of any family member, or creates a real danger of physical harm to any family member.

On a positive note, siblings of a youngster with AS or HFA often admit that there were many positive things that resulted from growing up with a “special needs” brother or sister. For example, they developed confidence when facing difficult challenges, learned how to handle difficult situations, and learned patience, tolerance and compassion. Research reveals that non-autistic children viewed their relationship with their AS or HFA sibling as positive when they experienced positive responses from parents and friends toward their sibling, had a good understanding of their sibling’s disorder, and had well-developed coping skills.

Moms and dads should support their non-autistic children to find ways in which they can relate to – and share an interest with – the AS or HFA youngster. By utilizing the suggestions listed above, all siblings can bond with one another and show affection by laughing and playing together.

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