Beautiful Minds Blog
We all want the best for our children. We want them to grow up surrounded by friends, always happy and having a good time. For some, building friendships is easy, but for many children who have been diagnosed with autism making friends can be difficult. Children who have been diagnosed with autism may struggle with making friends and maintaining relationships. Here are some helpful ways for them to build friendships and improving social skills.
Remember that friendships are built from shared interests, so help your child get involved in community sports, art programs, and special events. These activities are wonderful ways to meet new people and engage in structured events with peers. Also it would be a good idea to look into specialty camps and classes geared towards your child’s special needs. Reach out to professionals and support groups for information and recommendations.
Role playing different skills with your child will also help them get used to socializing. Work on specific aspects of social interactions. For example, if you see that your child is standing to close to peers when speaking to them, teach them about personal space. If you notice your child asking the same questions over and over, practice communication skills. By working with your child on these skills at home, he/she will learn to improve on social skills and apply these skills when interacting with others.
It is also a good idea to provide examples of both good and bad social interactions while reading a book or watching TV/movies. It helps to point out how someone is helping others or using kind words when friends are talking to them. It’s also important to point out when a character is being harmful or hurtful to someone. One way to point out examples of unfriendly behavior is to focus your child’s attention on situations where a character is doing something unkind to another person and explain to them why that particular behavior is considered unfriendly. Then teach them the correct way to act in order to be a better friend.
Modeling good behavior and demonstrating kindness is also very important. Your children follows your example, so whether you are at the store, talking to a neighbor or interacting with a stranger, point out when they do something thoughtful and let your child know how it makes you feel. Also, if your child does something complimentary, let them know how happy their actions have made you.
Lastly, teach your child not to force friendships. Friendships happen naturally. They are relationships that grow from common interests and understandings. It’s important to teach your children to be kind to others and to involve them in activities, but it’s also important that your child knows that although it is good to be friendly to everyone, they don’t have to be friends with everyone, just those they want to build relationships with.
Visual tools are important in everyday life. We all use them and rely on them for information. Whether it is a STOP sign, a map, a flyer, your calendar or To-Do list, we all use visual tools in our lives.
When working with children who have communication challenges, visual aids are a highly effective form of communication. They are also a great tool when applying ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) interventions at home.
Here are some common ways to provide information using visual tools.
- Feel comfortable with changing situations– when you create a schedule for your child with autism, be sure to leave room for changes. This teaches your child more flexibility and less rigidity. Use pictures and Velcro so that you can remove things you didn’t have time to do, or move things around when the order of your day changes. If you don’t have pictures, simply use a piece of paper and a pencil. Show your child when you erase things or cross things out. These are also great tools to use when applying the principles of ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) therapy in your home. Preparing your child for shifts and changes in their schedule will prevent anxiety, tantrums and other problem behaviors.
- Recognizing Locations and People – One of the other tools used in ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) therapy that works very well is showing your child pictures of where you’re going, what you are going to be doing, and who you may see when you are there. Let them become familiar with locations so they know what to expect. All of this helps your child feel comfortable and prepared. It’s great to bring your camera with you to places you visit frequently (like the park, a restaurant, a friend or family member’s house). Taking snap shots of these locations, instead of using generic pictures, will really prepare your child for what to expect.
- Give Choices – Showing your child with autism, images of games, clothes, food etc. and letting your child choose what they want to play with, wear, or eat, allows them to feel more in control. The experts at Beautiful Minds Center recommend this technique and find that images make it easier for children diagnosed with autism to make choices because many of the are more susceptible to visual cues.
- Manage Time – Creating a calendar or time schedule shows your child what time and when they will be working on preferred activities and non-preferred activities and how much more time they have before they need to transition to the next activity. Many of the therapists at Beautiful Minds Center will use timers and clocks at their sessions. This helps the child they are working with understand the difference between how long 1 minute is and how long 5 minutes is and are great visual tools to use during times of transition.
- Communicate Rules – Visual charts with house rules, rules for playing outside, and rules for outings in the neighborhood are great tools to teach your child what they are allowed, and what they are not allowed to do. Having them posted in visible areas around the house are also great reminders.
Whether you are in session with a therapist conducting ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) therapy or working with your child on assigned interventions, giving information through visual aids help your child with autism process things in a ways that cause less confusion and frustration then verbal cues might. Actually seeing something through images or in writing gives them the structure necessary to better handle any given situation.
Sometimes fun social events can be very stressful for a child on the spectrum. Group gatherings, such as assemblies, plays, places of worship, and sporting events, are meant to be enjoyable ways to spend quality time with your loved ones, but when a child with autism has a difficult time functioning in a large group, it is time to figure out how you can help them relax and feel like they are part of the group.
1. Let Them Know What to Expect: Before the event, provide your child on the spectrum with explanations and visual tools of what to expect when they are in a large group setting.
Depending on the activity, additional expectations could include sing with the group, clap when other people clap, or raise hand to ask a question. You may also want to print out a list of these expectations and give them to your child during the event.
2. Videotape your child’s role playing: Role play different social events with your child and videotape them correctly demonstrating skills. Edit the video to show only correct behaviors and then play the video back to them. While they watch the video verbally point out appropriate behaviors.
3. Practice before an Event: It is always good to practice going to a specific event right before the even takes place. Go through each step from attending the event, proper behavior while at the event, when to cheer, when to listen, etc and what to do at the end of the event before leaving. This can be done at the actual venue or at home or school.
4. Be Realistic: Sometimes no matter how much you plan, some events will just not be appropriate for your child with autism. They may be too loud, slow paced, or too long, your child may not be interested in attending and give you a hard time, etc. When you, your family and your child’s friends throw events it is always important to set realistic goals, that way the event or activity is more pleasant for everyone.
5. Reinforce Good Behavior: Provide your child on the spectrum with positive reinforcement during the event for attending and following rules. Use what is truly motivating for your child to encourage them to continue to be on their best behavior and participate appropriately at the event.
Learning to follow rules and behave appropriately in large group settings such as assemblies, places of worship, or movies can be challenging for many children, but can be extremely challenging for a child that has been diagnosed with autism. Some events repeat frequently and provide frequent opportunities for practice while others may occur every few months or sometimes once a year. Regardless of how often an event or activity occurs, or how many large events your child on the spectrum attends, it is always important to remind them of the skills they have learned in the past and teach them new skills to help them participate, stay relaxed and have a good time, no matter where they are or where they go.