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In this section, you will find some general information about how to help your child understand and form friendships as well as sources of information about activities in your area.
Developing friendships and social skills
In order for our children to lead satisfying social lives one of the biggest lessons we need to teach them as they mature is how to interact with and relate to those in the world we live in. Children with autism often struggle more than their non-autistic peers to make friends or expand their ways of relating to others. Being social is a learned behaviour and ALL children need help acquiring social graces through direct instruction, role modelling and practice.
The social challenges that mark many people with autism become painfully obvious to parents as their child is presented with opportunities to be social. Parents often seek professionals or school to accomplish this task but there is much a parent can do on their own. Here are six ideas to get you started.
- Determine what your child’s concept of a friend is. When young children begin making connections the adults in their lives start applying labels to those relationships. We might say to little Susie after she has engaged in some parallel play in the sandbox with another child, “You have a new friend.” But does Susie really understand what that means? And is it really accurate?
- Define the meaning of friendship for your child. In order to clarify any misconceptions he or she might have, we need to teach our children what a friend ‘looks like’, ‘sounds like’ and ‘acts like’. Making the word ‘friend’ a daily part of your vocabulary and taking every opportunity to describe what a friend is and does will benefit your child.
- Make the distinction between best friend, playmate, and acquaintance. Understanding these distinctions and how they can shift over time will help your child cope with the natural ebb and flow of friendships. There are children’s books available on the topic of friendship at your local library. Find one that describes the difference between the various types and levels of friend relationships.
- Create a social skills curriculum you can use at home. Start with the basic skills every child needs breaking them down into small steps that are adjusted to your child’s level of understanding and learning style. Begin by focusing on one skill at a time and don’t proceed to the next one until you feel your child understands the concept. In addition to talking and reading about specific friendship skills use other visuals such as picture systems or social stories when necessary. If your child has a speech therapist ask him or her for suggestions.
- Practice, practice, and practice friendship some more. The concept of friendship is not something you introduce your child to and talk about for a day or two. The notion of friendship takes a while for any child to comprehend completely so using everyday life circumstances to encourage your child to practice their friendship skills will help make it more concrete for them.
- Provide a good balance of encouragement and exposure. Some very young children with autism will appear not to care about having friends but it is important that they understand the basics of developing such a relationship for the day when they do start to care about having friends. Finding just the right balance between gentle encouragement and not pushing too much is a challenge. You know your child best so listen to your gut and let it guide you as you maintain the goal of a satisfying social life for your child.
Remember this is a lifelong process and none of us, even as adults, ever master the skill of developing and maintaining friendships completely. So be persistent and have patience with your child as well as yourself.
Useful information sources for leisure activities and ideas
We have given you details below of sources of information, some of which will be autism specific services, others won't be. If you would like your child to access a non autism specific activity such as Scouts, Drama or Swimming for example, you shouldn't be afraid to approach the organisers to discuss the support that your child may need. A simple profile detailing likes, dislikes, triggers etc about your child could be shared with the organisation to help them to provide support.
For details of some of the major theme parks and attractions and the support they give to people with autism and their families, the following link takes you to information produced by the National Autistic Society (NAS).
Families: ideas for days out -
The Cinema Exhibitors’ Association Card - This is a national card that can be used to verify that the holder is entitled to one free ticket for a person accompanying them to the cinema. Visit their website or call 0845 1231292 for details.
In all areas, sources of information can include your library, church, community centre, council offices, and sports centres.
Most local authorities have a discount card scheme for local services and activities. Eligibility is usually dependant on receipt of certain benefits. Contact your local authority for details.
Dorset, Bournemouth & Poole
The local authority websites have a comprehensive list of information sources and a database of local activities and clubs for children and their families.
Sport and leisure activities
Leisure and Culture
Leisure, Culture and libraries
interactive news and information network for children who are disabled and their families across Dorset, Bournemouth and Poole
Leisure and Tourism in Hampshire
Hampshire Autistic Society 02380 633 951
Leisure and Tourism in Hampshire
Somerset Autism Community Network
Leisure and recreation