Tuesday 12 January 2016

Can autistic people be sociable?

It's a common myth that children with autism are not sociable. Autistic children can be keen to make and keep friends, but may struggle with knowing the unwritten 'rules' and therefore have difficulty maintaining friendships.

Recently, our youngest girl sighed as she told me the following:

'Mummy, Thursdays we always have lunch last, because we are nearly always late back from swimming, but I don't mind that anyway because then there's not much playtime left, and I don't have to spend so much time sitting being sad and lonely like the other days.'

She went on to say that the only thing she could think of to do at lunchtimes would be to sit at the computer, but she knew she would get bored with that too.


As a parent, it is never nice to hear that your child is alone or unhappy. In a post about this time last year, I spoke of friendship groups and corresponding difficulties for our girl. I know the struggle with friends can happen for many children, at different times in their school lives, but it is NOT the same struggle for NT (neurotypical/typically developing) children. Those children can generally work their way through issues and learn from them, especially if given a little help from adults.

The lack of social understanding for autistic children creates such a huge divide, but often doesn't stop them wanting to be sociable. They just don't know the rules, and they are generally unaware of what will make other children think they're 'weird'. Even if good social behaviour is modelled for autistic children to learn from, there may be other issues such as sensory sensitivities which interfere with their ability to replicate that behaviour at any given time. 

Our eldest girl recently told me about all the times she has been in the younger year group playground (as one of the oldest at school, taking on a 'squabble squasher'/playtime help role with the youngest). The younger children come up to her and ask her why her sister is weird, why she makes strange noises whilst in the toilets, why she shouts and gets upset, why she puts everything in her mouth. Our eldest doesn't really have the answers to all of this and is understandably embarrassed. My heart aches for her too.

I honestly don't expect the other children to be friends with my girl, or for them to always include her in their games. I'm amazed how often they do try to include her, and how accepting they are on the whole. I'm guessing that some of them do like her and want to be her friend, but she is unpredictable and of course I can see how that makes it quite difficult for everyone. I hope that adults in the playground keep an eye out and remember just how extra difficult these social times are for autistic children. I appreciate that it's a very difficult situation all round though; I'm sure they do look her way, and I know some time is spent trying to involve her too, but they probably quite often see our girl running around doing her own thing, or kicking her heels in the mud, and think that she just likes to be alone. It could just be worth an extra check.

Sons, Sand & Sauvignon

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