The Challenge In my work with parents, it’s all too common to hear the concern that their child, with high functioning Autism/Asperger’s, initially tends to ‘fit-in’ but, invariably, peers begin to notice peculiar tendencies, and social immaturity, and then shy away from their child. Of course, this causes distress, sadness, and frustration for everyone involved.
The Dilemma Parents want to promote their child’s independence, and give them opportunities to socialize. Consequently, they’ll let their children play in the neighborhood, or participate in a sport or activity. However, again, invariably there are problems and the child feels distressed.
The Answer It is vital and necessary to encourage social opportunities for children with high functioning Autism and Asperger’s. The key is to “success” is four-fold:
1.) Provide ongoing, child-friendly, rehearsal of social skills, and preparation for the social encounter.
2.) Monitor the social situation. The ‘monitoring’ is done by an adult who is familiar with the child, understands the potential problems, and is instructed how to intervene. This could be the parent, neighbor, coach, youth pastor, cafeteria aide, teacher, teacher’s aide, family friend, relative, babysitter, librarian, camp counselor, TSS, Mobile Therapist… Actually, it could also include an older sibling or peer, if mature and trustworthy in that regard. The adult does not necessarily need to be well-trained, but simply have an understanding of what may ‘not go so well’ and some simple steps on how to respond. In that regard, it’s likely unwise to simply send-off the child to the social encounter with expectation that ‘all will go well.’ Structure and over-sight is imperative.
3.) Group-oriented social skill training. However, it can be quite challenging for a parent to find the proper social group for their child with Asperger’s. These high functioning kiddos, whose symptoms are often mild, don’t fit-in so well with children struggling with more severe autism. Groups for such children, especially those with very subtle symptoms, are not especially abundant. Here at Community Psychiatric Centers, we put together group therapy sessions for just these type of children. However, otherwise, the pickings remain slim. Consequently, we must rely heavily on social gatherings with typical peers, but with adult oversight.
4.) To the extent possible, instruct and help peers to be compassionate, empathetic, and tolerant. Many kids will rise to the occasion, if given some direction and information.
The Bottom Line Your child with Asperger’s needs to be monitored, when possible, in a social setting. Reinforce good social skills, and gently and tactfully redirect peculiar tendencies. Don’t leave it to chance. Educate adults who will be present during the encounter on what to ‘look out for’, and inform of simply ways to intervene. That is the recipe for success. Please let me know your success stories and how they came about. Thank you. God bless.