Kids with autism spectrum disorder often have difficulty making friends because of social awkwardness and anxiety.
The last time my eleven-year-old son had a good friend was in the first grade — when he was six. He is now in the sixth grade and though he hangs out with other kids at school, he doesn’t consider them friends.
The only reason he interacts with these kids at all is because he’s at a new private school. For three years in public school, from the second to the fourth grade, he played and ate lunch alone.
He had zero playdates with other children after school or on the weekends. Then the pandemic hit, and he spent the entirety of the fifth grade, learning remotely at home, completely isolated from all other children.
Luckily, now he's back in the classroom. More, he's in a new small private school setting. Still, he doesn't have a single good friend. He desperately wants one but hasn't been able to connect with another kid on a deeper level.
He's lonely. As his mom, this has been heartbreaking to watch.
My son has autism spectrum disorder.
The reason my son has had so much trouble making friends is because he has autism spectrum disorder.
What does this mean?
According to the American Psychiatric Association: “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental condition involving persistent challenges with social communication, restricted interests, and repetitive behavior.”
ASD is considered a lifelong disorder. The degree to which an individual is impacted by ASD varies from person to person.
ASD often affects a child’s ability to make friends.
Kids with ASD often have difficulty making friends. They have trouble reading social cues and reacting in appropriate ways.
My son certainly does.
He knows he doesn’t have friends but doesn’t know how to make them either. He doesn’t comprehend how to be considerate to other children. His behavior can seem strange and off-putting. If my son doesn’t like a child or how they’re acting, he’ll let them know.
He doesn’t typically make eye contact with other kids when he speaks to them. He is often unaware that children are talking to him at all.
He is very rigid when it comes to rules. If a child tries to improvise the rules of a game, my son will jump in to enforce them.
Kids often dislike this. They avoid him.
It's heartbreaking to watch as a mother.
My son used to have a friend but he lost her.
When my son first started public elementary school, he made a friend in kindergarten. She was a tomboy, and they loved each other.
By the first grade, though, other little boys started playing with the tomboy girl as well. Ultimately, these boys began to block my son from their group.
Things got worse when my son's tomboy friend moved away at the end of the first grade. My son was completely banished from this group of friends.
When he tried to continue to play with these other little boys, they told him to get lost. One of the boys even angrily asked: “Why are you still playing with us?”
My son spent the next three years hanging out by himself. He couldn’t make other friends because his classmates didn’t like how he would talk over them when they were speaking. When they’d greet him in the morning, he wouldn’t say hello back. When he did finally speak to them, it was to point out obvious things, like the color of the shirt they were wearing, or the type of backpack they had.
Unfortunately, sometimes it was even to state something he didn’t like about the child speaking to him. Of course, his classmates began to give him wide berth.
At first, this didn’t bother my son. Then he began to complain about not having friends. Every night he cried about it, telling me how depressed he was.
I couldn’t help him.
The pandemic was particularly isolating for my son.
Then the pandemic began, schools shut down, and my son’s life became even more difficult. He was completely isolated from other children, learning remotely at home.
This was incredibly painful for him. The way he spoke about his life during this period, so hopelessly, was devastating for me.
He would often comment that his life wasn’t really worth living. He spent a year alone in this utterly despondent state without any in-person interaction with other children.
Luckily, kids and teachers are now back in the actual classroom. That and I moved my son to a new special school for the sixth grade. The school is dedicated to teaching kids with autism.
My son is happier now. Even though he doesn’t have friends at this school either, he has other children around him each day. As the school is small, my son interacts with these children on the playground in a way he couldn't in the public school setting.
Still, he doesn’t consider these kids friends. He wants a good friend, he just can’t find one.
It’s heartbreaking to watch.
Children who have autism spectrum disorder encounter certain challenges in life. In social situations, they are particularly awkward. Worse, their social insecurity increases after sensing rejection from other children.
They often suffer from anxiety as a result. My son certainly does. This makes it even harder for autistic kids like my son to make friends.
Parents like me just have to be there to support our kids.
If you have a child with autism who has experienced similar social challenges, please leave a comment below.