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Promoting Friendship in the Classroom for Autistic Students

Promoting Friendship in the Classroom for Autistic Students

Perhaps the most common myth about autistic children is that they do not have the ability, motivation, or desire to establish and maintain meaningful relationships with others, including friendships with peers. This, for the most part, is not true. There is no doubt that autistic children have social deficits and communication or language delays that make it more difficult for them to establish friendships than typically developing children. However, with appropriate assistance, autistic children can engage with peers and establish mutually enjoyable and lasting interpersonal relationships. It is critical that teachers of autistic children believe this to be true and expect autistic students to make and maintain meaningful relationships with the adults and other children in the classroom.

Educate Your Class About Autism

As the teacher of an autistic child in a general education classroom, the most important task you have is to create a social environment in which positive interactions between the student and his or her typically developing peers are facilitated throughout the day. This will not happen without your active support.

Perhaps the most powerful tool to creating a positive environment and increasing positive social interactions between your autistic student and his or her peers is to educate the typically developing peers about the child’s disorder. Research shows that typically developing peers have more positive attitudes, increased understanding, and greater acceptance of their autistic peers when provided with clear, accurate, and straightforward information about the disorder. When educated about autism and specific strategies for how to effectively interact with autistic students, they are more likely to have frequent and positive social interactions with them.

Teaching Points About Autism for Elementary School Students

  • Autistic children are first and foremost children; they are like your typical students in many ways.
  • They experience the world very differently. Sights, sounds, tastes, and feelings that seem normal to us might be scary and overwhelming for an autistic child. Conversely, they may not recognize danger or experience fear like your typically developing students do.
  • Autistic students need and want friends.
  • Understanding autism is the key to creating connections.
  • Autistic children have their own way of communicating ⎯ it’s almost like a different language.
  • Autism is NOT contagious; no one catches it. Nor does anyone die from having autism.
  • Autistic children have feelings and often understand more than they can express. No one should ever tease or make fun of someone with autism.
  • When an autistic child feels included, everyone in the classroom can learn and grow!
Promote the Acceptance of Differences Among Students

In addition to educating peers, teachers should promote acceptance of the autistic student as a full member and integral part of the class, even if that student only attends class for a few hours a week. It is important to create an atmosphere in which teasing, name-calling, and intimidation are not allowed. Because autistic children have difficulties in socialization and in understanding language (slang) and social cues, they can easily become targets of bullies or other insensitive people. Bullying should not be tolerated in any school environment.

Many of the social interactions occur outside the classroom in the cafeteria and on the playground. Without prior planning and extra help, autistic students may end up sitting by themselves during these unstructured times. To ensure this does not happen, you may consider a rotating assignment of playground peer buddies for the autistic student. The student will then have a chance to observe and model appropriate social behavior of different classmates throughout the year. This “circle of friends” can also be encouraged outside of school.

 

It is clear that autistic children may need more help and support than some of your typically developing students. The investment of time and energy in the strategies listed above can pay off tenfold ⎯ not only for the child with autism, but also for all the young learners in your school community.

Want more tips for helping autistic students thrive in the classroom? Download or order a free copy of An Educator’s Guide to Autism.

 

 

This post was adapted from An Educator’s Guide to Autism. Click here to check out this resource.

The post Promoting Friendship in the Classroom for Autistic Students first appeared on Organization for Autism Research.

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