Friendships are an essential part of childhood, providing opportunities for growth, connection, and a sense of belonging.
However, neurodiverse children, such as those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often face unique challenges when it comes to forming and maintaining friendships.
Sometimes, neurodevelopmental differences can make it harder to develop friendships and participate in social activities. Skill building is one way to help children bridge the gap.
Neurodiverse children frequently struggle with social communication, making it challenging for them to initiate conversations, understand social cues, or interpret non-verbal language.
These difficulties can create barriers to building friendships and may lead to feelings of isolation and exclusion.
Research has shown that teenagers and adults with autism who have friends are less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. Friendships provide a sense of belonging and inclusion, contributing to overall well-being and social development.
It is crucial for parents to recognise the value of friendships for their neurodiverse children and actively support their efforts to build social connections.
Practical strategies for parents
According to research conducted and published by Harvard Health Publishing, encouraging your child to engage in play activities that align with their interests and comfort level is vital.
Parallel play, in which children engage in similar activities side by side, can be a great starting point. Gradually introduce more interactive play, such as puzzles or outdoor sports, to foster collaboration and shared goals.
Some neurodiverse children may exhibit impulsive or aggressive behaviours, which can hinder their social interactions.
Help your child develop effective ways to communicate strong emotions, such as asking for help, using an emotions board or taking breaks when needed.
Seek appropriate therapies and programming to address safety concerns and challenging behaviours.
New social situations can be overwhelming for neurodiverse children. Gradually introduce them to unfamiliar environments, starting with short periods and slowly increasing the duration.
For example, practise staying at birthday parties for 10 minutes and gradually extend the time spent there.
Structured play dates
Plan play dates with specific activities in mind. Create a list of potential activities and let your child pick from a hat to add an element of surprise.
Incorporate parallel play through arts and crafts projects, gradually building towards more interactive play as desired.
Look into facilitated recreational activities such a Lego club or pizza parties with teachers. Decide when and where to make food part of the equation. Plan to bring a support person if needed.