What are some ways for young people with autism to form and maintain meaningful relationships with peers and family members?
Forming and maintaining meaningful relationships can be a valuable goal for young people with autism. Here are some strategies to support them in developing connections with peers and family members:
- Facilitate shared interests: Identify common interests between the child with autism and their peers or family members. Encourage activities and conversations centred around these shared interests, fostering a sense of connection and engagement.
- Provide structured social opportunities: Create structured social opportunities that promote interaction and shared experiences. This could include playdates, group outings, or family activities that provide a comfortable and supportive environment for social interactions.
- Teach and practice social skills: Offer explicit instruction and practice in social skills, such as initiating conversations, looking at people, listening, turn-taking, and problem-solving. Use role-playing, social stories, or social skills training programs to teach and reinforce these skills.
- Peer modelling and mentoring: Encourage positive peer modelling and mentoring by involving neurotypical peers who can provide guidance and support in social situations. This can help the child with autism learn by observing and imitating their peers’ social behaviours.
- Foster empathy and perspective-taking: Teach empathy and perspective-taking skills to help the child understand and relate to the emotions and experiences of others. Encourage them to consider different viewpoints and practice empathy through discussions and real-life examples.
- Use visual supports: Visual supports, such as visual schedules, sentence stems, or cue cards, can assist the child in understanding social expectations and cues. Visual supports provide a concrete reference for appropriate social behaviours and help reinforce social skills.
- Encourage communication and self-expression: Support the child’s communication skills, whether through verbal or non-verbal means. Encourage them to express their thoughts, feelings, and interests, and provide opportunities for active listening and reciprocal conversation.
- Foster a supportive and inclusive environment: Create an environment that fosters understanding, acceptance, and inclusion. Encourage peers and family members to be patient, supportive, and accepting of individual differences. Promote a sense of belonging and a safe space for the child to express themselves.
- Provide social opportunities outside of school: Encourage participation in extracurricular activities, clubs, or community programs that align with the child’s interests. These settings provide additional opportunities for social engagement and the chance to meet peers with similar interests.
- Family involvement and support: Involve family members in supporting the child’s social development. Encourage siblings and relatives to engage in shared activities, model positive social behaviours, and provide emotional support.
It’s important to remember that building relationships takes time and patience. Every child is unique, and their social development may progress at their own pace. Celebrate small successes, provide ongoing support, and focus on the child’s individual strengths and interests as they navigate the journey of forming and maintaining meaningful relationships.
Leanne Hopkins is an Occupational Therapist at Succeed Healthcare Solutions and is passionate about creating a world where families thrive. If you are a parent or carer who would like assistance with helping your child to form meaningful relationships, please contact us and arrange a free 15-minute Discovery Interview to see how we can assist.