How to Help a Teen with Asperger's Make and Keep Friends

By Damon Verial
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Teens with Asperger's naturally struggle in forming lasting friendships. To help your teen, you must employ techniques that improve his social skill set. Teens with Asperger’s tend to have difficulty understanding others' actions and thoughts, making the intentional learning of social skills essential. Research on Asperger’s offers tactics that can help your child adapt to teenage social life, which, unlike social life in elementary and middle school, is much more person-focused than object-focused.

Focusing on Objects, with People

For teens without Asperger’s, people form the center of human interaction. For teens with Asperger’s, however, objects become the center of attention. Because of their strong sensory interests, teens with Asperger’s find it easy to engage in activities centered on non-human stimuli, such as drawing and games. Help your teen make friends by encouraging him to share his interests with his peers. For example, have him join the art club and encourage him to discuss his drawings with his classmates. This sharing can become a ritual that helps him form bonds with his peers.

Schedule Relationships

For most parents and teens without Asperger’s, the idea of schedule relationships seems absurd. But teens with Asperger’s tend to systemize their lives, creating highly structured routines. Help your teen add more human interaction into his life by encouraging and helping him schedule friends into his life. For example, schedule a “dinner with friends” night and a “lunch with friends” Saturday to ensure that he maintains the relationships he builds.

Social Feedback Oblivious, Not Immune

Whereas the average teen learns social skills naturally, through social feedback, teens with Asperger’s are less sensitive to social feedback. Parents must involve themselves by directly offering useful feedback. Reward him when he’s friendly to his peers and discipline him when he’s mean or rude. Ensure you explain why you’re rewarding or punishing him so that he can internalize the social skills that come more naturally for other teens. For example, if your teen avoids eye contact with his new friend whenever speaking or being spoken to, explain to your teen that eye contact is an important part of conversation. And don’t be afraid to use true rewards to encourage friendly behavior; in her book, "How to Live with Autism and Asperger Syndrome,” clinical child psychologist Christine Williams mentions how children with Asperger’s tend to benefit more from rewards than simple praise, unlike average teens.

Role-Playing: Not Just a Type of Video Game

Beside feedback, role-playing is a useful technique for preparing teens with Asperger's for social encounters. Through "trial-runs," you can let your teen know what to expect in novel social encounters. Instead of "winging it" as the average teen might do, an Asperger's teen prefers to have a structured method with which to follow. For example, a parent could role-play arriving at a birthday party, arranging a schedule for the teen to follow: Greet the birthday boy first, giving him his present; say hello to your classmates; and shake hands with unfamiliar teens. As teens with Asperger's learn better through structure, adding structure to generally unstructured social events allows a smoother transition from strangers to friends.

About the Author

Having obtained a Master of Science in psychology in East Asia, Damon Verial has been applying his knowledge to related topics since 2010. Having written professionally since 2001, he has been featured in financial publications such as SafeHaven and the McMillian Portfolio. He also runs a financial newsletter at Stock Barometer.