Here is some expert advice from Michelle Ridsdale on peer relationships related to autism.
Sometimes, parents are concerned about their children’s peer relationships. They want to know what the experts say and what things parents should look for in their autistic child’s behavior, attitude, self-esteem, etc.
Positive peer relationships and peer acceptance are difficult for children of all ages and abilities. It is completely natural for parents to be concerned about this area.
We spoke to Michelle Ridsdale and asked some common questions parents may have. She is an expert in the autism field and has an array of experience and knowledge when it comes to peer relationships and how they may differ for those children diagnosed with autism.
Tell Us More About Yourself
I have been working in the autism field for the last few years and am the founder and creator of Kaboose, an app focusing on autistic and neurodiverse people meeting and making friends in a safe space with similar interests.
How Can I Help My Autistic Child Make Friends?
It is important to know what the child’s interests are and what kinds of friendships the child is looking for. An example could be a friend in the classroom so they have a partner during activities, or they may be looking for a friend who likes reading the book series they enjoy.
After considering that, a parent can reach out and try to find and/or organize outings to expose the child to children with similar interests, making it easier to interact and possibly understand each other. This could provide the children with opportunities that help build and strengthen new skills while making friends.
What Are Some Difficulties My Autistic Child May Have Trying To Make Friends?
Sometimes, when an autistic child interacts with other children, the behavior can be misunderstood. For example, when a child takes a toy from another child or stands really close to a child without interacting, it can be frustrating to one child, and all the autistic child is trying to do is get their attention.
I recommend looking for these potential behavior problems and modeling ways to achieve their desired social interactions. It is also important to acknowledge these behaviors and build communication skills and ways of handling peer conflicts, even if it means becoming an adult.
What If My Child Doesn’t Seem Interested In Making Friends?
It can be rough when it seems that an autistic child really isn’t interested in friendship or social interaction with other children. It can also be difficult knowing that social situations can be difficult, leading to the autistic child possibly not being invited to outings and birthday parties.
These instances can leave parents concerned that their child is feeling left out and questioning if their child feels the peer rejection of not being invited or included. It is a good idea for parents to talk to their autistic child about friends, explaining the difference between good friends and bad friends.
This could be a good time to discuss the potential peer relationship difficulties that the child could be feeling, what they can do, and what kinds of friendship goals they may have. If a parent or caregiver feels the child’s loss of interest in peer interactions and building friendships is concerning, they can always talk to the child’s doctor for ideas.
What Should I Do If I Think My Child Is Being Bullied?
If a parent feels that their child is acting out of character or that something isn’t right, they can ask their child. For those autistic children who are verbal and can understand, it may be a good conversation starter. Anytime a parent or caregiver can go to a child’s teacher or principal with bullying concerns.
Many schools have a zero-tolerance policy for bullying and will watch for signs that it is happening, especially if a parent is concerned. It is a good idea to start and keep an open dialogue with the children that are verbal and able to discuss what could be going on and let them know that bullying is not okay.
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Why Is It Important For My Autistic Child To Have Positive Relationships With Their Peers?
Positive social connections and close friendships are important to strong and healthy mental health. It can be scary that the suicide rate is higher among those in the autism community. Quality friendships and a positive social life can help an individual’s overall life quality.
The emotional support that interpersonal relationships can provide is priceless. People diagnosed with autism can sometimes struggle with social and emotional skills. Having supportive relationships with peers can make a big difference in developing and maintaining these skills.
What Does A Positive Relationship Look Like?
In a positive relationship, there is give and take. It is important to note that within healthy friendships, there are compromises.
When teaching and promoting social behaviors, it is important to focus on respect and acceptance for the individual and who they are. Another important thing to remember is that a positive relationship feels good and is healthy for each individual in the relationship.
Teaching individuals about their identity that they have so much worth, and that there is no reason to settle for negative behavior or people. That there’s no reason to settle for less-than-par friends.
My Autistic Child Finds It Difficult To Share. What Can I Do?
In early childhood, young children can have a hard time taking turns. If there is a game that the child is interested in, or even in an activity like Legos, parents can help their autistic children practice sharing.
It is easier for parents to try these activities in a laid-back environment, calm, home environment/ safe space. Trying to teach or practice these behaviors when things have already been heightened, and stress is present can be difficult.
Keeping these social skills-building activities age and skills level appropriate is important. Some great examples of activities could be taking turns during dinner, at snack time, or even sharing crayons when coloring together and having back-and-forth conversations throughout the day.
My Autistic Child Can Be Rough When Trying To Get Other’s Attention. What Can I Do?
In early childhood, this behavior can be fairly regularly witnessed when young children, like preschool children, seek attention or sensory input. There are social skills that can be taught during a calm time at home, like gently tapping on someone’s shoulder or saying their name to get their attention.
Another useful resource is social stories that can be found or created to help teach the children to interact with others, along with role-playing. These stories help break down the steps that the child may go through when interacting with other children and give them a step-by-step way of properly getting attention from someone.
The sensory-seeking children can do some sensory activities before leaving the house, like running outside or other activities that could help stimulate their sensory seeking before they go out with other people. Talking to the child’s doctor or occupational therapist could be a great starting point for ideas.
Should My Child Make Friends With Other Autistic Children?
When it comes to making friends, it is important for the individual to find their tribe. These would be like-minded people who better understand the individual and their interests in ways others don’t.
Sometimes, a person finds their tribe within the autism community, and those people are neurodiverse as well. This may be because they tend to understand each other in ways others may not.
Having shared interests within a safe space can be a great stepping stone when forming friendships. Michelle Ridsdale shared some tips and tricks, as well as things to potentially watch out for with autistic children when it comes to healthy friendships and potential bullying situations.