Friend-Making Skills for Kids with ADHD and Asperger's Syndrome

by Brodie Nepean

Best FriendsMarsha, a mom of a four-year-old little guy, struggled emotionally as she watched her son play at school.

"My heart breaks as I watch my four-year-old. He sits alone, playing with a car. The others in the group don't seem to even notice him but worse, he doesn't seem to care," Marsha said, brows furrowed.

"The kids used to say, 'hi' to him and offer to share toys and sit down to play. Sometimes he doesn't even look up. Kids need friends and my little boy doesn't have any," she concluded.

Kids with ADHD can be inattentive and impulsive. These traits can interfere with the child's ability to notice other's non-verbal cues, imitate actions and behave in socially acceptable ways.

While children diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome might not be inattentive or impulsive, they do have similar challenges with social interactions and communicating with others.

Friends Do Matter

According to Dr. Paul Schwartz, psychology instructor at Mount Saint Mary's College, more than half of the children referred for emotional or behavior problems have no friends or experience difficulty in making friends.

  • Friendship helps kids develop social skills.
  • Kids with solid friends have higher self-esteem.
  • Kids with friends are less likely to be lonely.
  • Kids with friends cope better with stress.
  • Kids with friends are victimized less by bullies.

The world might seem like it's a cold and unforgiving place. It's believed that friends can warm it up quite a bit. Mature friendships endure the test of time, distance and offer comfort, intimacy, and support. Friends help clarify goals and expectations. Best friends are priceless.

Friend-making skills begin in childhood. Kids' relationships are based on experiences. For the seven years old and under crowd, friendship tends to be based on who lives nearby or who has the coolest toys.

Roadblocks to Making Friends

Children who are inattentive can appear shy or uninterested to other kids when offered to join in an activity or become friends. When hyper-focused on an activity, book or video game, this child doesn't look up when other kids say, "hi."

Even when an inattentive child looks up and responds, they might not take the time to notice facial expressions and gestures. Their peers will quickly judge, calling them rude, stuck up, or weird. Other children will just neglect the inattentive child.

Some kids with ADHD find their hyperactivity or impulsive behavior affect their attempts at making friends. They might stand too close, be loud and obnoxious or intrude inappropriately on other's play. Peers frequently reject these children, actively avoiding interacting because they're loud, aggressive or immature.

Developing Good Communication Skills

Good relationships require good communication skills. Kids who make friends easily coordinate what another says with their voice and what they say nonverbally.

Some kids are born social butterflies. They make eye contact, talk at a normal volume, use gestures and keep a comfortable distance from friends. Other children need coaching and encouragement as they develop the necessary skills to make friends.

Your first step to helping your child learn friendship-making skills involves watching and jotting down notes.

Once you know which areas are challenges, you can spend time together modeling the ideal behavior and "pretending" to talk and play with friends. Choose one or two behaviors to start. Once your child has mastered those changes, you can work on others.

When you see your child put these lessons into practice, praise the efforts. We suggest saying something like, "I saw how you moved back a step and talked more quietly when April looked unhappy. Good for you! You paid attention to your friend."

If your child had or has problems making friends, how did you work thorough it?