What is a friend? How to teach your child with autism what it means to have a friend.

The other day, I had this conversation with a little client:

Ms. Jen: Tell me about your friends in your class.

The little boy started listing every single classmate’s name.

Ms. Jen: Are those your friends or are those all of the kids in your class?

Student: Those are all of the kids in my class.

Ms. Jen: Ah, I see. That’s cool that you know all of their names. What about just your friends? What are their names?

Student: Oh, um. Johnny, Max, Devon, Sally, Francis… actually I don’t know.

Ms. Jen: Do you know what a friend is?

Student: I know I know. Actually, I don’t know. What is a friend?

And my session’s lesson began.

I explained to him that a friend is someone who makes your heart feel good. It’s someone you want to be around and who you have fun with. A friend is nice to you, you are nice to your friend, you like talking to him, and you want to play with him.

Student: Oh! Okay, these are my friends.

He then listed four of his friends.

So, here is the challenge that I often see. Educators sometimes teach their students that everyone in the class is a friend. This is a beautiful idea, and may actually be the case for some children. However, this is not true for everyone.

So, we have some work to do to help your child understand this concept.

  1. Teach your child that just because a kid is a classmate, it does not automatically mean that he is your friend.
  1. It is important for your child to most always be kind to others. However, if another child isn’t being nice to him, then he needs to let the other kid know that. We want to teach your child to stick up for himself. If your child was taught that all the kids are his friends, he may think that this is just what friends do. It’s important to highlight the important parts of what actually makes a person a friend.
  1. A friend is someone you feel comfortable with.
  1. A friend is someone you can trust.
  1. A friend respects you and does not purposefully do things to hurt you.
  1. A friend is someone who makes you laugh. It feels good to be with a friend.

By outlining these concepts with your child, you are setting him up for success in a socially overwhelming world.

Be sure to check out my Social Skills Workbooks where I outline specific steps to help your child make and keep friends to improve his quality of life. I have created two workbooks, one for young children and one for teens. You can go here to learn more.


The Social Skills Workbook for Children and Teens with Autism

Does your child have challenges with conversations, making friends, and understanding social rules?

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