Helping my son make friends

Hi, first post.

My son is 11 and has just started secondary. He was diagnosed in January with autism and dyspraxia and hypermobility. This is because for some reason, he's been sent for referrals since he was 4 but the drs kept sending him back.

Since starting school he's been bullied by a group of boys including surrounding him in the changing room. He is such a lovely and funny person but seems to have little to no confidence on himself and tends to only speak to people his age when they initiate conversation. Even then, he is very passive and tries to please them. He stims and repeats, has special interests and doesn't quite grasp social etiquette.

I know he longs for friends but seems unable to make any. My question is how can I help him at school, and where can I find out if there's any Autism specific social clubs nearby so he can make friends with people like himself?

He says he doesn't like himself and is lonely and it breaks my heart.

  • Hello and welcome to the forum,

    I’m sorry to hear that your son is having problems with bullies at school.

    I would like to think that support for autistic children has changed since my days at secondary education - I’m in my sixties - when autism was unheard of and violence was meted out by both fellow pupils and teachers.

    Do you have someone at your son’s school that you can liaise with and report any particular problems? The school should be made aware when pupils with autism are encountering difficulties and address your concerns.

    Tai chi for children is often recommended as it helps coordination, core strength, posture and boosts confidence. Learning controlled movements is known to improve one’s sense of self.

    It may be worth having a look around the Ambitious About Autism site. This site is for parents and young people up to the age of 25.

    NAS does offer a parent to parent service which you can find here.

    This blog is written by a UK Mum of autistic twins. She has been blogging about her twins’ difficulties for 5 or 6 years now, so it may be worth looking through her posts. She is a committed christian but isn’t preachy.

    If your son has a special interest that could be helpful in terms of a future career, this should be encouraged. Free text books in many subjects can be found here.

    You can find a twitter feed that has alist all of the therapies and supports that parents -can- use to help their autistic kid.’ You can find it here.

    All the best, Graham

  • People aren't required to like your son or befriend him. However, they were required to respect his right to exist, to move in the same space, and to be treated equally under the law. Making sure your son is aware of this and teaching him how to stand up for his rights in a healthy way e.g follow the formal complaints procedure vigorously is a key skill that would be beneficial for him to develop. Plus, helping him look for friends elsewhere (as you suggested) is a great way to go. After all, if he goes to uni or even in the workplace, he might not like the people he's immediately based with and will need skills to be able to cope with his environment whilst focusing on friends elsewhere. In regards to making friends, many areas have specific FB pages for autistic individuals, which advertise these things. I know Sheffield has a very active scene for holiday events. If I were in your shoes I'd also make sure you son has a lot of opportunities to interact and develop friends with his NT peers as these are the ones he will need to interact with the most throughout his life and especially in employment. Have you sat down with your son yet and gone through the activities in your area to see which clubs he'd like to join?

    From these boards I've seen many autistics who have had bad experiences and become incredibly prejudiced against NTs in general, favouring segregation over integration. As such, I also think it's crucial that you make sure your son is aware that many people are bullied whether they're ND or NT and that the issue isn't with his neurotype or theirs but with the way these individuals have been taught to behave.

  • Hi

    I find in schools children eventually find their people. So there might be another quiet, passive child who your son may find. It could  be a child whose main language isn’t English.

    Perhaps ask a teacher if there’s anyone your son tends to gravitate towards then try and arrange for them to come over to your house.

    I know it’s harder having contact with teachers and other parents at secondary but most kids have phones now so can be done.

    Hope he finds “his people” soon.

  • Hi, I understand how hard that must be to watch your son going through, and also how hard it must be for him.

    As Graham SR said, I would have hoped that things had improved since I was at school. I was bullied and taken advantage of too - but I didn't know then that I'm autistic, and neither did my parents. You have an advantage in your knowledge here, but how you can use that in today's school systems I don't know (someone else here will, no doubt).

    I offer you some thoughts from my perspective, please take as just one viewpoint amongst many.

    Based on my own experience, I would say that perhaps one way that you can help him is to listen carefully when he wants to talk, and give him space to recuperate when he needs it. Special interests are one way that we escape into a world that we can control and enjoy, and are mainly a positive thing for us. Not grasping social etiquette may be just the way he is, neither positive nor negative, and all you can do is prompt him to work through what happens when he does x, y or z. I overcame my lack of understanding by observing and building a capability to emulate others, but this cost me dearly because of the sustained mental effort needed. For this reason, it *may* be better for your son not to put too much effort into learning social rules and emulating them. On the other hand, I guess that you perceive that he needs to in order to make and keep friends, so some effort may be needed. I don't think there is an easy answer.

    Ask him how he would describe an ideal friend? Where he would like to be with them? This might give you some pointers as to where to help him look.

    One thing I have found from *adult* life is that shared interests, especially where eye contact is not expected or practical (in my case, motorcycling, running, cycling) provide a way to be with others and form bonds without the strain of having to conform to expected social behaviours that literally exhaust me. Another benefit of doing this in a "club" environment is that the members provide an instant "circle" that you don't have to construct yourself by networking and socialising.

    I hope that helps a bit.

  • Hi - welcome to the group. I really struggled to make friends at school, until I started focusing on finding a couple of very good friends (rather than trying to tag along with large groups, who inevitably left me out). If you can get him interested in a club at school (e.g. music, theatre, creative writing etc.), that might help him to mix with like-minded people.