Julie Cole: The Baby Machine


Helping Not-So-Social Kids Make Friends

Some simple, but possibly surprising things I've done to improve social skills

An autism mom friend recently wrote a touching blog post about her son’s desire for friendship, something that does not always come easily for “our guys.” The response was amazing—with her loyal readers, fans and friends honouring her request for prayers that her son’s wish for friendship might come true.

It got me thinking about our own journey and I suppose in lots of ways I took a very practical view of dealing with the friendship issue. Many of the positive results we saw came from expensive programs and relentless teaching. Here are a few of my tricks of the trade:

Birthday party invitations: Our guys generally don’t get bogged down with invitations. When they get one, buy the birthday kid a ridiculously over-the-top present. Why? It might get your kid invited to more parties. Would it be for the wrong reasons? Who cares? I’m not above coughing up a great present in exchange for the amazing social opportunity a birthday party provides.

Birthday parties for our kids: Make them amazingly fun and invite lots of children. Create buzz by having “the” party to be at.

Be the fun mom: When I took my little guy to the park, I’d play chase with all the kids as the other moms sat and chatted over coffee. You see, all the park kids want to play with the fun grown-up, so being the fun mom creates social opportunities for your kid. While running around like a crazy lady, feel free to occasionally throw the stink eye in the direction of those coffee-drinking slackers who have no idea how lucky they are (wink!).

Teach your kid to be a good loser: When a kid has a major meltdown because he lost “What Time is it, Mr. Wolf” at recess, he’s not exactly positioning himself to make friends and influence people. No one wants to play with a sore loser. Teaching my guy to lose was a big part of his program. We made him lose board games over and over and practice saying “Good game, would you like to play again?” without crying. Social skills programs are great for tackling this common issue.

Autopsy the social event: After a social interaction or activity, be sure to autopsy the event with your kid. What went well? What could have gone better?

Teach your kid not to be boring: Help them understand that we don’t all want to hear about dinosaurs, the solar system, Pokémon, etc. Describe what someone’s face looks like when they are bored or tuning out. Teach them that when they see that face, it’s time to immediately change the subject to something the friend might be interested in.

Keep your kid cool: If all the kids are talking about Super Mario, get them a Super Mario game so they can be a part of the conversation. Dress your kid in cool clothes. It drives me crazy how some people dress their kids with autism. If you have a kid who acts a bit nerdy, the last thing you want to do is dress them that way.

Goofy stims: Do whatever you can to cut/re-direct/otherwise kill weird-looking stims.

Train their neurotypical friends: Teach them to be honest with our guys. It’s OK to say “Hey bud, don’t stand that close to me when you’re talking, OK…it makes people feel crowded”. Or “Hey bud, we don’t wear our ball caps that way once we are 12 years old, wear it like THIS (adjust hat).” NT kids should be proactive, not merely observing the behavior—encourage them to chime in and share what they know!

Increase their social circles: If things are not going so well with the school friends, it’s great to have other friends to rely on. My guy has friends from Scouts and sports as well. And let’s not forget his besties—siblings and cousins.

Pray, teach, program or do all of the above. Every kid deserves friends—let’s show them how to get some.