How to Help Your Child with Autism Feel More Accepted

It is difficult to see your child with autism struggle with feeling connected.

As parents, we all want our children to feel like they belong.  We want them to feel connected, and that they are appreciated and loved for who they are. Wanting them to thrive in their connections with others and feel understood, valued, and loved. When they feel a sense of belonging to their world, their confidence is stronger. Their zest and happiness in life becomes evident.

But because we are so eager for our children to belong, we can have a tendency to stress and worry about them.  It is only natural. Your fears will rise and worries hit strong when you see your child struggling to feel connected. You likely have many fears for your child and their future. You fear that no one will like your child or that your child is different.

In Simi Valley, individuals are very family oriented and this can lead to more and more worries for your child. You fear that your child will ultimately have low confidence or won’t be as self-sufficient as you would want.

There are many difficulties a child with autism has that are hard to overlook. It’s not as easy or natural for the child to make friends. They struggle with maintaining or initiating conversations. With finding things in common with their peers and using humor in ways that are appropriate. Dealing with their frustration in the moment is another difficulty.

A child with autism has to work much harder than their peers to try to catch the social cues of their peers. They may get frustrated that they need to keep adjusting themselves.  That they need to keep doing things differently to connect with their friends while others don’t need to work so hard. They are also more likely to get bullied or picked on by their peers.

With our strong need to have our children feel accepted, this overwhelm can impact your own relationship with your child. You may find yourself overcorrecting your child’s responses to peers or to you. This can lead the child to feel that they are constantly doing things incorrectly or that there is a lot to fix. As a result, you and your child, can end up feeling stuck, overwhelmed, and worried about the future. Our child therapists and family therapists in Simi Valley are here to help. 

toddler pointing at an ipad

Perhaps your situation with your child with autism looks like this….. 

All the kids are running around together at the park and your kid is by themselves playing with the leaves. Instead of playing with kids his own age, you find him, coming to chit chat with you. He wants to tell you about the leaves he is finding. When you ask him why he isn’t playing with the other children, he says that they don’t want to play what he wants to play. He says that they don’t listen to him and that they don’t include him.

This can be heartbreaking for parents. Know however that there are many ideas and resources to help your child feel connected with peers. You may be unsure where to start, but moving forward in building the tools to help you and your child is a great start.   

Even though your child with autism appears different than others their age this doesn’t mean that they can’t make friends and feel connected to the world around them. It is very important they learn how to push outside their comfort zone and try new things. These areas along with bettering their communication with others will build confidence and better connections.

You are a large part of your child’s journey in making changes and feeling more connected. When we  make the changes or adjustments we need it is entirely possible to start seeing your child have successful friendships. You will also feel the change in your own anxiety as well.

Keep reading to learn how to help your child with Autism make and keep friendships

stressed child sitting on his mother's lap

What happens if I don’t help my child feel more connected?

The biggest downside of not implementing change to help your child feel more accepted is that constant worry and sadness you have when you see them struggle. The feelings they are experiencing are very difficult to see. They feel different, lonely, and embarrassed. You are both worried if they will find their group of kids to play with.

The last thing you want to hear is another birthday party of playdate they weren’t invited to. You both worry they won’t find their people. 

What happens when I do get the help my child with autism needs?

Getting the help your child needs and making changes will help them feel more understood.  They will have some clear ideas on how to connect including ways to join conversations and initiate play. As a result, they will feel more in control of their impulses and frustration and have better emotion regulation. Making friends more naturally and finding friends that get them. 

It’s not about changing who they are, but becoming accepted by those who get them genuinely. You will feel more contentment and reassurance that they will be okay. You will smile knowing that they feel more confident about themselves and that they just got an invite to a birthday party.

toddler holding a paper heart

How you can help your child with autism make and keep friendships:

Method 1: Have purposeful conversations with your child

It is important to understand your child’s point of view. This way you will truly hear what’s going on for them in their world. Within the conversation help them increase their awareness.  Do so by exploring how they are feeling and helping them take on the perspective of others. Helping your child with autism expand their perspective taking abilities is a true gift to give them. 

Make sure you are normalizing their feelings so they feel you get them. If you don’t emphasize or normalize their feelings, they may feel attacked or misunderstood yet again.

In Child Therapy in our Simi Valley therapy practice, we work with you as the parent on how to talk to your child about difficult topics. We help you reduce your own worry in the moment. It is essential that you feel that you can help your child. 

When you engage in purposeful conversations with your child, you can expect to feel more in control of how to help your child in the moment. You will feel more confident in being able to help them navigate similar situations in the future. They will leave the conversation feeling better understood, less lonely, and having a strong sense of how to move forward.  

Method 2: Take action by setting up playdates for your child

This will give them the opportunity to practice the skills that you have explored together. Setting up playdates also betters their connections and increases their confidence with peers.  You can help them identify the moments that could be a trigger for them (e.g., friends not wanting to play minecraft) and help them come up with solutions.

Together with our clients, we do role-plays to help them enact the scenarios typical of a playdate. A child with autism truly benefits from practice with social cues. We help them come up with ways to initiate conversation, negotiate play and catch social skills (e.g., someone being bored). In sessions, we role play a variety of different scenarios so that they can feel confident in the moment with a peer.

We also engage them in written activities to help them create a plan for how to respond in different situations with peers. Very importantly, we help parents help their child.

When you start setting up playdates at home you increase their chances for success. Through role-plays, problem solving, and communication, you will see your child get excited to see their friends. They will feel more in control of the outcome of the playdate and feel that you are there to help guide them. You will feel better about your ability to set up a successful interactions with peers.   

Method 3: Work with your child’s school to help set up success in the classroom and on the yard.

Most of your child’s friendship opportunities are in school. It is therefore essential that we utilize the school system to set up an environment that will be most conducive to helping your child build and maintain friendships.  

When working with us, we find it essential to stay connected with your child’s teacher, school counselor, and others involved at school. We work with them on identifying ways they could help your child problem solve with peers. Other areas of focus include bettering communication and strengthening relationships. 

When you work with the school on a joint effort to help your child feel better connected, you will feel more in control of the changes you can implement for your child. School is a big part of your child’s day to day life. It is therefore important to work with the school to help your child’s confidence and connections.

Method 4: Utilize their siblings or family members to help your child build tools and practice bettering social interactions.

Siblings and other family members (e.g., cousins) can be a very helpful resource to help your child build skills and practice some of the tools you are working with them.

Here at Simi Psychological Group, our psychologists and therapists are big believers in working with the whole family system. We use sibling and family sessions to help build connections within the family and help your child use the skills in a natural setting. We also work with parents on setting up playtime in ways that helps the child practice with their siblings.

Practice helping your child catch cues with siblings to better their interactions. As a result, you find yourself feeling hopeful because you will find that there are many opportunities to help your child! Since siblings (and other family members) are likely more accessible than play dates you are able to help them more often.  Simultaneously you can work on strengthening their relationships with one another.

Method 5: Ease you own anxiety so your child doesn’t pick up on it.

It is only natural for you to be anxious for your child to make friends and feel better about themselves. You only want what is best for your child. But anxiety can creep up and make you more reactive or push harder (and possibly not in the most helpful way). Slowing yourself down and easing your own anxiety can help you help your child in a way that feels good for you and them.

In sessions with us, we help you identify the anxiety that is coming up and ways to slow it down in the moment. We are able to help you feel more in control so that you don’t need to allow your anxiety to take over.

Get help for your child with autism in Simi Valley, Ca

When you schedule with us for child therapy in Simi Valley, Ca: you will feel more at ease with your own overwhelm and will start to feel that you are taking action in the right direction to help yourself and family.

Helping your child feel accepted and connected to their peers can help them feel confident and happier in life. As their parent, you absolutely can try a few of the suggestions above and help them feel accepted. 

At our Simi Valley counseling practice, we offer Child therapy, Teen therapy, Anxiety Treatment, Depression Therapy, Marriage Counseling, and Neuropsychological Testing. We are now offering online therapy for most services. Contact Us today! 

Written by, 

John Danial, Ph.D. 

Male psychologists wearing a blue collared shirt

I’m a licensed psychologist who encourages children, teens, and families to take the steps and make the changes they need to see real, lasting change in their lives. Learn more