School friendships for autistic children and teenagers: what to expect
Healthy school friendships and relationships with peers are good for all children. They help children develop socially and emotionally, boost confidence and give children experience in negotiating, cooperating and problem-solving.
Autistic children and teenagers might find that friendships at school grow from shared interests in a particular subject, hobby or activity.
Autistic children and teenagers might also like spending time just watching others or doing things by themselves – for example, throwing a ball against the wall or reading in the library or quiet room.
Doing things solo doesn’t necessarily mean that your child is lonely. It might be your child’s way of calming down or getting their energy back during the busy and stimulating school day.
Helping autistic children and teenage develop healthy school friendships
Groups and clubs
Special interest groups or clubs can help your autistic child connect with other children who share the same interests – for example, Japanese animation, computer science and so on. Teachers might be able to encourage children and teenagers with mutual interests to form a group if one doesn’t exist.
These kinds of groups can also give children structured ways to spend free time during lunch or classes. And they can help all children build teamwork and social skills and create a safe environment for everyone.
School mentors and buddies
If your autistic child is paired with a peer, teacher or support person, this person can help them make sense of the way other children are acting. This person can also guide autistic children on what to say and how to act around others.
This can help your child practise social skills, get to know other children and be a starting point for friendships.
Drama classes can be a great way for your autistic child to watch how other children and teenagers act and to practise social skills through role-play and imitation. Your child might be able to use the classes to learn about body language, facial expressions, tone of voice and different points of view.
Drama classes can also be a way for your child to practise conversation and listening skills, as well as responding in situations that come up at school with their peers.
Unhealthy peer relationships at school: what to do
Your child has the right to learn, feel safe and be included at school. If you feel this isn’t happening because of unhealthy peer relationships, it’s usually best to work with the school on a solution to the problem. This means the first step is to communicate with the school.
You can also check the school’s complaint policy or contact your state or territory education department or Catholic or independent school association about what to do.
Autistic children are at particular risk of bullying, especially in mainstream schools. Bullying can be bad for their self-esteem, mental health, social skills and progress at school. If your child is being bullied or bullying others, it’s essential to work with schools to sort out it out.