Topic: Aspergers and True Friendship

My seven-year-old son was recently diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. I am wondering if he will ever be able to develop true friendships. Marissa Prior, Georgia

This is a complicated question, Marissa! It is very hard work for young children with Asperger’s to make and keep friends. Because of sensory issues, anxiety, narrow fields of interest, pragmatic communication difficulties (even for highly verbal children), and trouble reading and understanding social cues, making and maintaining friendships is challenging. As children grow up and attend school, their desire for friendships seems to increase. At this point it’s important to try and understand from these children just what they think a friend is. Their understanding of friends might be very different from what our social world defines as true friendships. Once we know what they think, we can address their perceptions and misperceptions about friendship and help them develop the social thinking necessary to make being with peers more enjoyable.

With kids diagnosed with Asperger’s, reciprocity in relationships is difficult, the “back and forth” of play, conversation and inquisitiveness are amongst the many things that will need to be taught. Once children are at a developmental and emotional place to be open enough to this teaching they can become aware and adept at this essential aspect of friendship. In our experience, the way to teach this is by translating all of the abstract and “hidden” parts of social interaction into concrete bits of information that need to be practiced with peers who have similar social thinking issues. It’s a mistake to think that children with Asperger’s will “pick up” these skills from typical peers, because they won’t. They need to be taught explicitly and concretely how relationships work and what they can do to foster relationships. Then it’s practice, practice, practice. The motivation to do this varies from child to child, depending upon their willingness to experience the discomfort that comes with challenging their misperceptions about other people, the quality of their interactions with other children (have they been teased, bullied?) and how they feel about loneliness. Once a child or teen is ready to enter into friendships, they tend to seek out peers who share their focused interests so that they can relax and feel comfortable in the relationship.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

mrosenthal November 12, 2010 at 4:54 am

It is important to note that many children with Aspergers desire friendships and social interaction but they do not necessarily require the same emotional depth in the relationship.
I work with many children with Aspergers on developing appropriate social skills. I have found that many children are capable of developing true friends alebit not to the same degree as their typically developing peers.

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Social Skills Central November 17, 2010 at 3:43 pm

Thanks so much for you comment. You make an excellent point.
Social Skills Central

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mrosenthal November 18, 2010 at 5:35 am

I am enjoying your website immensely. Thank you. Are there any screening or diagnostic tools you can recommend or create to pinpoint the social weaknesses of a particular child or adult?

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Social Skills Central November 23, 2010 at 2:39 pm

There are some tests that psychologists can administer to determine the level of capability for different social tasks and there are rating scales as well. These tests are administered by professionals with a specific training in this area. To our knowledge there are no diagnostic tools or assessments that can be self-administered. We will continue to search for materials that may help our members evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the children they work with.

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Chris - the Social Maze July 4, 2014 at 9:52 am

For me, as someone with Asperger’s, I became so more and more withdrawn in my teenage years. I think I felt that as I was approaching adulthood, I could just latch onto my parent’s friends, the safe, easy and comfortable thing to do.

The teens are complicated years as people are still developing and the dynamics of friendships are changing. My recommendation is that when a potential good friend comes along, parent’s help to facilitate these friendships, helping the aspie child know what is appropriate to go along with, and where he needs to not just follow what his friends do but think for himself. The parent’s or other adults should also act as third parties, helping the aspie child to understand those things that won’t be picked up. But if the aspie child is keen to make friends, they should be encouraged in this, making friends at a young age will make it much easier to make friends in adulthood. It will save them the pain I had to go through of building a social life from scratch as an adult.

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