Autism Spectrum


leaving school and leading your own life

Making friends

stories for parents


Social coaching to help Harry make and keep friends

Ahhh, friends – the holy grail for children with autism. When my son was younger, I thought he would never have a friend – to be honest up until he was about 10 he had very little interest. When he was a pre-schooler he played alone.


It didn’t change much in early primary school – I distinctly remember him putting his hands over his ears when I tried to coax him into inviting someone over for a playdate.


Roll on to the current day – he is now 19 and there is nothing that would make him happier than to catch up with a friend – he even shocked me recently when he agreed to see a movie he had already seen just because he wanted to go along with the girl who had suggested it. My, how times change.


He has certainly gained social interest – this is something that can’t be taught but has seemed to come to him in his own good time. But the skills that are needed to make and keep friends have not come easily.


We have had lots of issues – from persisting in pursuing people who were clearly not interested (count em’ 15 unanswered SMS messages in a ten minute period – this required some serious explaining about why sending so many messages in a row was not a good idea) to copying the class list from the teacher’s desk so that he could send Facebook friend requests to everyone in his new TAFE class ( I know, full points for initiative but the teacher was totally unimpressed).


What’s worked best for us is the social coaching method – you can read about this in a book called “The Hidden Curriculum” by Brenda Smith-Myles or in the Jed Baker social skills series.


Jed baker book


Basically, the approach is one of direct teaching of social rules that everyone without autism knows but has never been taught. These rules are essential to get by in everyday life but don’t form any part of a normal school curriculum. They need to be taught to our kids.


With this approach, if your child commits a social faux-pas (when, not if, in our case) you work out what rule he or she is breaking and then teach it to them.


When my son was younger, this was more elaborate. We would write them down in a scrap book, draw stick figures with speech bubbles as we told stories about doing things the right way and we would do role plays, sometimes pulling in the services of friends and family to make them fun.


Now, he knows the drill. I just point out to him what he needs to know and he fairly readily takes it on board. He even thanks me sometimes – “thanks Mum, I didn’t know that..but I have autism you know”… usual, telling it like it is.


Bit by bit, rule by rule, he learns the things he needs to know. But it is always a work in progress, just when I think we have it covered – the goal posts move. He is just starting to show an interest in the opposite sex – a whole new curriculum – might hand this one over to his dad!

Vicki G