Developing Friendships

You knew how to comfort your daughter when she had a disagreement with her best friend in second grade and she thought they would never talk again, but it is a far more daunting task to explain to your 13-year-old how to make a friend, especially if he feels he has never had one.

For many of our kids, there can be a large disconnect between having “friends” (other kids that they talk to) at home and having “friends” (other kids that they talk to) at school. It is so important for our kids to develop real friendships especially as they get older. It is also tremendously important to us as parents to see them develop friendships. However, because of the differences in the way that we grew up relating to our peers and the way our children with autism spectrum disorders grow up relating to their peers, it can be very difficult to know how to encourage and support friendship growth for our children.

Here are several steps that you can take to help support your child in developing friendships.

  1. Talk about a “friendship scale” with your child. You can make 3-5 different levels of friendship and discuss with your child what each of those levels mean, how you know that you are at that level of friendship, and what the benefits and responsibilities of each level of friendship are. This can help make “friendship” more concrete and understandable for your child. An example of 5 levels would be: acquaintances, friends, good friends, close friends, best friend/s.
  2. Help your child identify a few other children that he/she wants to work on building a relationship with. You may need to utilize support groups or contacts within your child’s class to find children who would likely be good friends for your child. Talk about things that can help make a good friendship such as similar interests and similar ages. You can help your child come up with questions to ask new children he/she meets to help decide if they might be a “good friend.”
  3. Help your child identify two or three ways each week that he/she can work on improving his/her relationship with the child he/she wants to build a relationship with. You can help your child come up with ideas such as: Call Alex to talk about what he did this weekend;  tell Andrew about my new video game; invite Emily over to play; sit next to Jenna at lunch.
  4. Evaluate each week with your child and if possible with the other child, where they feel like they are on the “friendship” scale and how they can continue to build or maintain their friendships.

These steps can help your child see and feel progress in making friends. Certainly children at different levels will need more or less support, but having a plan of action can make the task of supporting friendships easier.


Last post we focused on teaching imitation skills. Now it’s time to assess and teach interactive play skills. Does your child independently engage in turn taking with the absence of problem behaviors? Is your child attending to the person whose turn it is? Is your child a “good sport?” If you answered no to any of these questions, and your child is ready, it may be time to teach these skills.

Turn taking is an important skill to have if your child is going to be successful when playing with other peers. There are two different types of turn taking that your child may need programming to address. These include taking turns during a game and with a toy. Some of our students have a difficult time letting others play with their toys. This can result in difficult behaviors if they have not learned to share and deal with another child getting a turn. You might start teaching this skill in a 1:1 setting with a preferred toy. Starting with their “favorite” toy might not be the best idea. Let the learner have the toy and say “your turn,” after a minute or two take the toy and say “my turn.” Start with short increments of time and systematically increase.  It is also important to work with your child on taking turns during a game. Start with a simple game that your learner has the skills to complete. Once they are taking turns independently and playing the game for about 10 minutes, it’s time to make sure they are attending to the other individual playing with them. If they are not attending implement programming for this skill. This may be a more difficult skill that requires other prerequisite skills. At this point if the learner is not attending you may want to brainstorm with your consultant about additional programming.

Consider using visuals when teaching turn taking.

Other Strategies to Consider:

  1. Token system
  2. Video Modeling
  3. Role Playing

Finally, is the learner a “good sport” when playing a game? Some of our learners have a difficult time if they lose a game or it does not go as they planned. It is not practical for them to win all of the time. Once they can take turns and play the game now it is time to make sure they can “lose well.” One great way to do this is reinforce your child for congratulating the winner of the game. If you would like to get these programs in place talk with your consultant about where to start and what will work best for your child.


Many of the children we work with have difficulties with social skills. Often they do not have the prerequisite skills to engage in social behavior. Without these skills it is more difficult to teach higher level social skills. Let’s look at those precursor skills are and how to start teaching them.

Imitation is a critical skill for the learner when talking about social skills. Everyone is able to learn more from their environment when they can imitate. Even adults imitate other individuals in a new environment. For example, if you go to a new store you might imitate getting in line in the same place that everyone else is getting in line. You wouldn’t just walk right up to the cashier or start your own line. Obviously, there are many ways that we could figure out how and where to get in line but imitating others is an  easy way of learning from our environment. Imitating someone requires that the individual attend to what someone else is doing and then copy that person. If our students can walk into a play situation and imitate the behaviors of other peers they will be more successful in those situations. There are different types of imitation skills that should be put into the learners programming.

  1. Gross Motor
  2. Fine Motor
  3. Oral Motor
  4. Imitation with Objects

When teaching these skills start off with one-step imitation in a one-to-one setting. Use a discrete trial type format. Monitor the progress on each imitation skill and add new skills accordingly. Once there is a repertoire of imitation skills slowly build the number of steps to two steps, three steps and so on.

Additionally, independent play skills are an important skill to start working on. Teach your child to engage appropriately with age appropriate games and toys. Increase the amount of time the child engages in various types of play activities. It is important to develop reinforcement contingencies for engaging in play activities. This will help to make play skills a conditioned reinforcer. If you would like to get these programs in place talk with your consultant about where to start and what will work best for your child.