How to support your neurodiverse teen to make friends
Is it difficult for your son or daughter on the spectrum to make friends? It can be hard for a neurotypical teen to make friends, but even more challenging for someone with Autism. As a parent, it can be emotionally tough to see your child struggle socially. Here are some tips to assist your teen to connect with others and form friendships.
1. Empower them to find social activities that interest them:
While it may be difficult for your teen to be social, it is important to encourage them to step out of their comfort zone. This doesn’t mean that you should force them to do things that make them uncomfortable. Instead, start small and gradually challenge them to try new things. Different types of social activities that your teen can participate in will determine how many new people they meet. For example, if they only want to spend time with one other person, you may want to reach out to another parent of a teen on the spectrum and set up a “playdate”. If your teen is more interested in group activities, then you can investigate joining a club or sports team. Regardless of the social interaction size, participating in social activities will support your teen become more comfortable around others and give them opportunities to learn new social skills.
2. Introduce them to friends of yours or their siblings’ friends:
In additions to this, if you have a friend who has a child with Autism, they will already have something in common that will make it easier for them to connect with one another. This can take the pressure off when meeting new people. It can also provide them with a built-in support system, which can be especially supportive for introverted individuals on the spectrum.
3. Teach them how to start and maintain conversations:
Conversation skills are an essential part of making and keeping friends. One way is to start by teaching them how to make small talk. This can be done by practising at home or in social situations. You can also give them conversation starters they can use when they are around others. For instance, you can teach them to ask questions about the other person, such as their interests or what they did over the weekend. You can also encourage them learn how to listen by modelling active listening skills. Lastly, you can encourage them to be patient as friendships often don’t form overnight.
4. Provide tips on how to deal with bullies:
Unfortunately, bullying is a reality that many people on the spectrum face. Talking to your teen about bullying and how to deal with it is important. Otherwise, they may withdraw from social interactions further. There are a few different ways to teach them how to stand up for themselves. Different role-playing scenarios can also teach them how to identify bullying behaviour. This way, they can be prepared if someone does try to bully them. Lastly, you can encourage them to tell you or another trusted adult if they are being bullied.
5. Praise their accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem:
Whenever your teen does something social, praise them for their efforts. This will encourage them to continue participating in social activities. It is also important to remember that even small accomplishments should be celebrated, such as saying hello to someone new, asking someone a question or starting a conversation. No matter what route you decide to take, remember that it is important to be patient and supportive. Social skills take time and practice to develop, so don’t get discouraged if your teen doesn’t make friends straight away. With your support, they will eventually find their social niche.
Seek Assistance: The PEERS® Program
The PEERS® program offers hope for those struggling with social skills and loneliness. The program has significantly improved empathy, reduced self-reported loneliness, and increased invitations from non-PEERS friends. These improvements are due to increased social cognitive skills, leading people to understand mental/emotional states and make sense of other’s behaviour.
The 16-week PEERS® program, according to research, is effective in improving social skills after one year and maintaining improvements for up to five years following treatment. Caregivers have reported an overall improvement in social skills, including cooperative social behaviour with peers and caregivers, social assertiveness, and self-control.
If you think your teen would benefit from this program, you can find more information here: https://www.sociallyspeaking.com.au/peers-groups
Ask a specialist:
Socially Speaking is a specialised service that guides people with ASD, ADHD, and other social challenges to explore their social skills and communication. The team of qualified speech pathologists are motivated to renew an individual’s sense of self-confidence, independence, and optimism for the future. If you need support learning the communication and planning skills necessary for positive social experiences, don’t hesitate to contact Socially Speaking for a free consultation. With their expertise and compassion, you’ll be one step closer to empowering your teen to make long-term connections with others.