From the neurotypical person’s point of view, it seems as if children, teens and adults on the autism spectrum are not interested in having friends. They do not show the same type of social cues or social behaviors and body language that indicates to others that they want to have a relationship. The adults I have interviewed make it clear they enjoy having relationships, including those who are mostly non-verbal such as Sue Rubin (“Autism is a World”). My son Jeremy often communicates about wanting to have friends. However, understanding the concept of different types of relationships and knowing the appropriate behaviors and conversations expected from the neurotypical viewpoint, does not come naturally, and can be magnified for those who are non-verbal.
Ways in which it is difficult for them to make friends:
- Many children on the spectrum are good at playing alongside, but not with, peers. They may be fascinated with a toy, but not play with it in the way it is meant to be played with, which means that peers may not connect with him.
- Games are difficult. They need to learn turn taking and waiting.
- They may be very interested in certain objects or past times that are not usual for the developmental level
- They have a hard time making eye contact (as discussed elsewhere), and for many neurotypicals, eye contact is important and if you do not make eye contact then you appear rude or shifty.
- Children and teens may have poor social skills.
- They are not good at picking up on non-verbal communication skills, such as social cues and body language, and this makes it hard for establishing a relationship. Those who are non-verbal may have communication systems that are limited and unfamiliar to neurotypicals.
- Many who are verbal are not good at social chit chat and are frankly not interested in it because they don’t get the point of it. Often they have difficulties starting and ending conversations, or only want to speak on topics they are passionate about.
In my next post I will discuss tips on how you can help your child learn skills that will help him / her have meaningful friendships.