By Staff Writer
Adolescence is a critical time for social development. But not all teens develop social skills at the same pace. Those with Asperger’s Syndrome or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may have deficits that need to be addressed in order to enjoy the normal experiences of adolescence.
One way parents can help their teens develop important social skills is by encouraging them to participate in social events at school and in the community. Structured events allow teens with Asperger’s, ADHD and related disorders to get involved in peer interactions without any awkwardness or embarrassment.
The following are a few examples of events that may help your child build friendships and social skills:
Holiday Festivities. Most schools engage in various holiday celebrations throughout the year in which students exchange cards or gifts or work together to decorate their classroom. On Valentine’s Day, for example, it is common for students to pass out cards and candy to other students.
This is a great way for teens to practice being around potential friends or romantic partners without the pressure of one-on-one interaction or lengthy conversations. In an environment where teens don’t have to outshine anyone, they are free to relax and be themselves.
School Dances. Since teens with Asperger’s or ADHD may not have many friends, structured events like school dances give them practice interacting with peers and gradually building friendships. Since everyone is invited, teens feel welcomed and accepted. Parents and other trusted adults may even be able to chaperone, which allows them to step in and offer guidance and support if their child is struggling.
Sporting Events. Going to football games and other school-sponsored sporting events can build a sense of camaraderie and school spirit in teens with Asperger’s or ADHD. In these settings, there are a lot of people around to connect with, allowing teens to engage in a series of brief interactions. If they’re struggling socially, these events also allow them to get guidance from a parent or peer mentor without drawing attention.
Field Trips. Field trips are excellent opportunities for children with ADHD or Asperger’s to spend the day practicing two-way conversations with their peers on the bus or at their destination. To settle your child’s nerves, it may help to check a map beforehand to see where they will be going and talk about how to handle any difficult social interactions that take place outside the confines of school.
Social Groups. One of the most effective ways to practice social skills is for teens with ADHD or Asperger’s to get involved in social groups at a young age. Some examples include church youth groups and Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts.
These groups facilitate social interaction in a natural, easy way because they are built into the structure of the group and don’t require any special effort on the part of the participants. The head of each group coordinates outings and get-togethers that everyone participates in, which takes away the intimidation factor of having to ask someone to hang out.
These are common activities that teens may see in movies or on television, and that other teens have likely experienced as well. This gives them common ground and a sense of belonging and acceptance.
Prior to all of these events, it is helpful for parents to coach their child on what usually happens in these situations and what the basic social rules are. For example, teens with Asperger’s or ADHD may need specific guidance on who asks who to dance or how close they should be.
Summer Camps for Teens with ADHD or Asperger’s
There are specialized programs that partner with parents to instill social skills in adolescents with Asperger’s, ADHD and related disorders. For example, Talisman Programs has ADHD camps and Asperger’s schools that offer structured social events. These events are supervised by staff members who provide instant feedback and guidance and model positive social interactions.
At Talisman’s summer camps, talent shows are another outlet for teens with ADHD or Asperger’s to practice social skills. These events give the teens an opportunity to stand up and get recognized for something they do well, which can be a tremendous esteem-builder.
Without involvement in structured social activities, teenagers with Asperger’s Syndrome or ADHD may miss out on important social milestones. With your help, your child can develop social skills and enjoy themselves and their peers at the same time.