By Staff Writer
Adolescence is a critical time for social development. Not all teens develop social skills at the same pace. Those with Autism 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, autism, ADHD, and related disorders get involved in peer interactions without any awkwardness or embarrassment.
Common Opportunities Helping Your Child Build Friendships and Social Skills
Most schools engage in various holiday celebrations throughout the year in which students exchange cards or gifts and 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.
Since teens with autism or ADHD may not have many friends, structured events like school dances give them practice interacting with peers while 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 offer guidance and support if their child is struggling.
Going to football games and other school-sponsored sporting events can build a sense of camaraderie and school spirit in teens with high-functioning autism or ADHD. In these settings, there are a lot of potential connections, 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 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 during the trip.
One of the most effective ways to practice social skills for teens with ADHD or autism is 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 teens with autism or ADHD may see in movies or television, and that other teens have likely experienced. 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 the basic social rules. For example, teens with Asperger’s or ADHD may need specific guidance on who asks who to dance and appropriate boundaries.