A friend is a person that one knows, likes and trusts. A person with whom one is allied in a struggle or a cause. A true friend is someone who sees the pain in your eyes while everyone else believes the smile on your face. A friend is someone we turn to when our spirits need a lift; someone with whom to share our good news. True friends are hard to find, difficult to leave and impossible to forget!
Friends enrich one’s life considerably, so why wouldn’t we want this goodness for our autistic child?
Although we have all of the advantages, it is still hard work for us “typical people” to find one true friend in our lifetime. If you have one, you are in a good position. Our autistic children will need all of our help, guidance and encouragement to try to find and maintain a friendship.
Many individuals with disabilities do not make friends easily, leaving them at a great disadvantage. Friendship enriches our lives, and enables us to practice and refine our social skills in a nice and non-intimidating environment.
The “typical” child looks forward to recess, free play and making new friends, while children with autism find themselves feeling scared and uneasy at these times. Children with autism feel most comfortable in a predictable, structured and controlled environment. It is very likely for them to feel difficulty making choices, experiencing all the different noises, and chaos of times like recess. They rigidly follow their routines and the rules of different games, while “typical” children like to change the rules to have more fun.
These differences can cause misunderstanding and distress for the autistic child, not understanding why the rules had to change, and at the same time the other children will lose interest in playing with the autistic child. This can sometimes reach the extent of bullying.
The routine and structure that makes the autistic child feel safe and balanced can be achieved in this case with autism visual supports, such as visual schedules and social skills stories. These are resources that were implemented to create routine and structure for the child in the classroom, and it will help to ease their anxiety toward recess/free play.
Autism visual supports can help the child to understand how to preserve friendship, how to maintain a conversation, pretend play, how to decode and respect others feelings, how to share and how to make choices. All these social skills have to be learned by autistic children, while the typical ones can usually attain these skills naturally.
Social skill stories in particular are very helpful in developing these skills. Allow your child to experience different types of social gatherings, where you can supervise or guide them on how to start or carry on a small conversation. Praise them and correct them in a gentle way.
We take so much for granted, and we do not realize how difficult it is for some children to do the simplest social act. Friendship is important in everyone’s life, so let’s help our kids develop one and maintain it for lifetime.