Encouraging friendship when a child has autism is often a challenge. A turning point in our journey as parents of an autistic child started when we saw adults laughing at our son, Trey, as he reacted to seeing a dragonfly on the soccer field. The lack of information about autism for parents of non-autistic children can be problematic. It is natural for parents of autistic children to want to shield them from the public out of fear that any behavior issues will bring unwanted attention. While our instinct is to protect, we might actually be hurting the child by not allowing them to interact with other children. On this journey as a parent of a child with autism, I’ve also learned that speech and occupational therapy is not nearly enough for a child who is on the spectrum to thrive. Encouraging friendship when your child has autism is important and your child needs to be able to socialize with peers of the same age. It’s important for social and emotional growth.
Children look to adults for social cues, and through observations, they learn how to treat other people.
Here are some tips on how to help your child make friends and interact with autistic children:
Parents of non-autistic children should be empathetic. Even if you have no idea about what autism entails, the emotional well-being of a child should take precedence over any personal feelings. Often, non-autistic children will make an effort to be friendly to another child. When this happens the adults should interact and encourage the non-autistic child to engage and answer any questions they may have regarding the child with autism. Children look to adults for social cues, and through observations, they learn how to treat other people.
Find Common Hobbies
I discovered that Trey was musically inclined, but not because he told me. When diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, he couldn’t communicate effectively, but he would bang on anything that he could find including a table, an ironing board, just about anything. We enrolled him in a music school to learn how to play drums which did two things: 1) it stopped him from repeatedly tapping on his desk at school; 2) and he found an interest in playing other instruments. My son now plays the keyboard, violin, and most recently he has learned to play the guitar. He also loves certain shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Little Einsteins. Today, my son and I have many conversations that start from a common interest in music, television shows, books, and sports.
Trey desires to play sports and video games just like any other child. Encourage your child to be friends and play with children on the Autism spectrum because they need friends too. They need to be able to socialize with other children their own age. Along with speech therapy, being able to feel involved and part of a group will help your child to thrive. Trey has a group communication session twice a week. The teacher will often offer a subject topic to start a conversation between Trey and some of his classmates, which helps the other children to understand his personality. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, interacting with others has been a little difficult and virtual sessions cannot match in-person interaction and socialization.
Even though Trey has friends in his specialized school, our goal in his journey is to cultivate a relationship with at least one other person that he can call a friend outside of his school setting. He has a cell phone with numbers from his godbrother, a godsister, a boy he met at church, and his cousin who are all his age. While it is our job to put him in a position to succeed, it really takes a village of other adults to encourage others to interact and to facilitate opportunities for all children to socialize together and to understand that we all are a bit different. And being different is okay.
Jamiyl Samuels is the author of Pass the Torch: How A Young Black Father Challenges The Deadbeat Dad Stereotype and co-owner of The Amazingly Sensational Kids (T.A.S.K.) media company, which publishes superhero children’s books to spread awareness for Autism and special needs children. The Amazingly Awesome Amani” and “Sensationally Super Sandy” books are inspired by their son Trey’s courageous journey as an autistic child navigating the (sometimes harsh) realities of life through his vivid imagination. Jamiyl has been a writer for 25 years and holds a Bachelor’s degree in English and a Master’s degree in Media Arts, with a concentration in screenwriting from Long Island University. He lives in Queens, NY, with his family.
Watch Our Podcast With Jamiyl & Tracy Samuels on Autism