How to Help a Teen With Asperger's Make and Keep Friends
The Difference Between a Typical Teen and One With Asperger's
Typical adolescents go through many different changes and transitions in an attempt to discover who they are as individuals.
It’s common for a teen to have many different hair styles, change music and movie interests, and especially embrace different social activities involving their peers.
Teenagers who have Asperger’s tend not to be concerned with changing their appearance or style. Quite the opposite is true for these kids actually. Change can be a huge source of anxiety. People with Asperger’s thrive on routine and predictability.
People with Asperger's generally have a few specific interests that they are consumed by, which don't change dramatically. These interests will include something like baseball statistics, snake varieties, computer programming, or US Presidents. Their knowledge of the interest grows considerably due to the fact that they are always thinking about it and seeking more information.
This process doesn’t leave a lot of room for the typical self-exploration that many teens experience. This difference is one of many reasons that the teens with Asperger’s have a hard time relating to the average teenager.
Why Teens With Asperger's Don't have Many Friends and Why They Might Need One
Kids with Asperger’s have a very difficult time having a reciprocal conversation or interaction with people which makes in very hard to make friends.
They will work or play parallel to their peers instead of engaging in an activity with the person. They may play different video games while next to each other, or tend to their personal sports card collection while they are hanging out. Neither one is touching the other’s things but they can show each other what they have and share all of their knowledge on the subject.
They also have difficulty empathizing and relating to their peers in a way that fosters a traditional friendship. Finding an independent and slightly submissive peer who has a significant interest in the same area as the teen with Asperger’s is the key.
People of all ages who have Asperger’s spend much of their time in their own world entertaining themselves. When the teenage years approach they will often begin to long for the companionship and comradery they see with other teens around them. It is important for their family and loved ones to foster that desire as much as they can. Unintentional teen isolation can lead to depression and other emotional distress. Teenagers with Asperger’s already have a significantly higher risk of being prone to depression.
How to Find a Good Fit
A good way for a teen with Asperger’s to make friends would be to join an independent club or activity that involves their personal interest. The independent part is important because many people with Asperger’s Syndrome have a very difficult time working with other people in groups or on teams.
Predictability is extremely important to these teens. They function best when there are no surprises or changes. When working with other people, they can’t always anticipate what another person might say or do. They experience great physical and mental anxiety when someone says something or does something they aren’t expecting. These traits coupled with the social awkwardness can be very explosive when working with others.
Not All Friendships Have to Be the Same
It has long been proven that kids with Asperger’s thrive within a routine. They are happier and more productive when they know exactly what is going to happen next and they can count on it.
Traditional friendships usually involve hanging out sometimes or calling a buddy last minute to see if he wants to go to the new scary movie with some girls.
That kind of friendship wouldn’t work for the teen with Asperger’s. That doesn’t mean that they can’t sustain relationships with other people. It just means that the friendship would look a little different.
Organized friendship would probably be a good term for it. A regularly scheduled time and activity would be a wonderful way for a teen with Asperger’s to maintain a friendship with a peer.
A good example would be, every Tuesday after school the two friends play a particular computer game together for two hours. The only stipulation to that scenario would be that if the time or game needed to change for any reason, the teen would have to know that well in advance of the scheduled time. People with Asperger’s do have hard time with change but they can adjust with advance notice.
It’s the unexpected that makes them anxious so if they expect the change, they can respond appropriately.
Expand What They Know to Include Other People
Another kind of friendship that would work really well for a teenager with Asperger’s Syndrome is one that is based on their specific area of interest.
If there is a way to take the subject they love most and adapt it in to a social setting it would be wonderful for him/her.
If their passion is basketball for instance, they might be able to keep the score or player statistics for the team at their high school. This would get them involved in an activity that includes many other students while they are still in the comfort zone of their particular interest.
If they are extremely gifted and interested in computer programing, maybe they could join the computer club or yearbook staff and create some amazing programs and special effects for the school.
Not all interests will easily translate into a social activity but many will with just a little creativity from those around them.
The Many Ways a Teen With Asperger's Can Benefit
Examples like these would most likely be successful because they are scheduled, ongoing activities that would encourage the child with Asperger's and their peers to get to know one another better.
This would help them in many ways at once. The teen would be more socially active and feel like a part of something. They would be an important part of a club and the school so other people would count on them.
Most importantly, it would breed tolerance and acceptance among many of their peers which would greatly reduce their feelings of isolation.
Even the most independent people need to feel accepted even if they can't truly be understood.