Dolores (mother of James, 14, who is autistic): With James going into high school, and becoming a teenager and making new friends, his desire to want to interact with people and socialise more has been a really good thing because for a long time he didn’t really want to socialise or it didn’t bother him. Now it’s nice to see that he’s trying to make friends, both at school--and he’s in his peer support now. When he knows he’s going to peer support he asks if a couple of the other boys are going, ‘Is such and such going?’ And I’ve got to say, ‘I don’t know. You’ll have to wait till you get there.’ And he’s learning slowly how to interact properly with them, which is nice.
Alison (mother of Ellis, 13, who is autistic): When you just see him and have a short chat, everything seems fine. He’s learnt how to respond in certain situations and he manages quite well. But, if you are prolonged with him, you then see the differences because it takes an awful lot out of him because it doesn’t come naturally. Social situations don’t come naturally to Aspies.
Elena (mother of Alex, 15, who is autistic): Alex, even though he’s 15 now and should-- well, we were hoping he would sort of be more into friends as he got older. He actually is quite anti-social as in he doesn’t mind being around other people but he really likes to be left alone. That’s something that it does disappoint us still, that he doesn’t want to be social. But it’s also something you can’t force on someone.
Katharine Annear (disability educator who has Asperger’s disorder): When some kids say they’re not interested in friends, they’re really not interested in friends and it’s okay. Unless the child is showing signs of extreme anxiety or depression related to peer relationships, if they say they’re happy doing something else, then they probably are and that’s okay too. So you have to examine your desire for--if you have a desire for your child to have peer relationships, whose desire is it? Yours or your child’s? If it’s your child’s then often they’ll get along with younger kids or older kids.
Dr Richard Eisenmajer (psychologist, The ASD Clinic): One of the diagnostic features of people with ASD is that they’ve got to have an issue with socially relating to their peers. And what we tend to find is, even for the very high-functioning ones, that over time they don’t quite keep up with their same age peers.
Dolores: He’s not an anti-social child but he doesn’t know how to socialise appropriately. And that is something that we’re still struggling with a little bit. He tends to want to get too close to people where he shouldn’t. So just teaching him where his boundaries are, and peer support seems to have really helped with that.
Lillian (mother of Tash, 13, who is autistic): She made some friendships in her integration process into the normal school. And so occasionally we have outings or some sort of friend over. So it’s a unique sort of situation because obviously Tash isn’t talking. She’ll share particular activities with these kids. And it is, it’s like space shared, and intention shared, and watching and looking without a lot of words really. So it’s different but she loves it. She just loves the company of other teenagers.
Dolores: He does have friends at school. And if I ask him, and I really have to push him because he doesn’t like to answer questions, about who he sat with at lunch today, he will tell me a couple of the friends that he has sat with. And luckily the friends that he’s got, they’re all in the support unit. And they do tend to look out for each other. And it’s a great relief for my husband and I to know that when James is at school, that he’s okay.
Katharine Annear: I think parents worry about congregating their kids with other kids with autism, is it going to make them more autistic, are they going to pick up other behaviours from people, are they--should they be doing activities with typical peers or can they go and do stuff with kids with autism. You can get both. I think the sense of relief that some kids find when they find other people like them is phenomenal. So they’ll go to a group and everybody’s got autism or Asperger’s and they’re all into the same stuff or similar stuff. And they just get each other. And that can be really good for self-esteem. But it’s also good for your self-esteem to succeed with typical peers as well. So I’d be starting in those groups with your similar peers with ASD and then, once you get some skills, you try them out on your typical peers.
Lillian: She also is now attending a dance group and it’s a special class for special ed one, but we’re hoping then with some skills that she’s acquiring with that to take her to a normal dance class where she can meet some neurotypical people, and form some friendships and enjoy herself as well. Yeah, there’s just--she also had a respite program. And in that, with respite, we have a young carer who takes her out to all sorts of activities.
Katharine Annear: Encourage relationships based on interests. So if your son or daughter is interested in collecting stamps, I don’t see any problem for you to escort them to a stamp club, or a scrabble club or growing orchids. Your child might interact with people in their 50s and 60s who are also orchid growers but they’re going to develop some lovely vertical relationships within the community that may well support them later on. They might find a mentor or someone who will spend time with them around their special interest of trains, or orchids or whatever it might be. And that’s okay.