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Seeing a child ask a classmate to play on the swings with him at recess, or watching a child share her snacks with friends, may be an everyday occurrence for some parents. For others, it is a great victory!

Friendships are an important foundation to have for all of us. Children on the autism spectrum want to have great friendships but may have trouble establishing them. This can lead to later withdrawal and antisocial behavior at times. Learning how to make stable friendships can lower these issues, reduce bullying and lead to better relationships with children who are not on the spectrum.  Social groups and monitoring the amount of  your child’s solo time can really help to foster great and long lasting friendships.

Helping your child to establish friendships can be done through everyday, thoughtful activities. Here are some suggestions to help guide your child to forming friendships and social connections.

Practicing Social Skills

Helping children to be comfortable and confident in their social skills can have a very positive impact on their ability to make friends. Social skills are learned. Therefore, practicing skills such as introductions, entering and exiting activities can help a great deal. Perhaps try some role playing of social skills at home the child can practice at school. For example, you can practice with your child on how to ask a classmate to share their crayons. Or, practice taking turns when playing a board game. Watching videos of children engaging in appropriate social interactions can also provide good models.  Try videoing your role-playing; many children enjoy making movies and watching themselves on camera.   The more prepared the child feels, the more at ease and confident they can be.

Being an Example

If there is a specific social challenge the child is experiencing, modeling how to handle that particular situation can be very helpful.  For example, if your child has trouble with introductions, why not model how to do introductions, if a neighbor moves in next door? Having your child near you, so they can see how you introduce yourself (without placing an expectation on your child of doing the same this time around), can be very helpful.  The child will see you making a special effort to learn about your new neighbors, and introducing yourself. They may feel more encouraged to try it at school or on the playground.

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Building on the Child’s Interests

As adults, many of us make our friends through sharing a common interest. If we enjoy singing, we may make friends in the choir or at Karaoke. If we like Zumba, we make connections in class. The same is true for children. Children make friends based on having something in common with each other.  If your child shows an interest in dancing, try finding a local dance class that your child can join. This can help to spark conversations and start building connections. If your child enjoys animals, try signing him up for special programs a zoo may offer. Remember your child may not share the same interests that you do, but there are all different kinds of people out there who may share a similar interest to your child.

For more information on this topic, please visit Autism Speaks.

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