How To Help Your Child With Asperger's Syndrome Be More Socially Accepted
Dr. Cynthia La Brie Norall has advice for parents who want to know how to help their child with Asperger's be more well-liked (and less bullied!) at school!
Author Cynthia La Brie Norall, Ph.D., author of "Quirky, Yes--Hopeless No: Practical Tips To Help Your Child With Asperger's Syndrome Be More Socially Accepted" talks about the social challenges children with Asperger's face, and she offers suggestions on how to help an Aspie child learn to groom better, start and keep a conversation going, and stop annoying behaviors that set them up for rejection.
Commitment: What social challenges do children with Asperger's face that can make it hard for them to make friends?
Cynthia La Brie Norall, Ph.D: Children with AS don't read non verbal cues well or at all. They concentrate on the words that a person says and often take those words literally.
However there is so much more about communication than the words. They aren't good at putting the facial expressions into the message. This means that they miss many important cues such as the person is bored with hearing about their special interest which may be planes or trains or dinosaurs. Or they might miss that someone has moved away from them and what that might mean. In addition, when they are on the playground and watching other children play a game they may not "get" what the game is until they've observed for some time.
By the time they are ready to join in the game has changed and they've missed an opportunity. That is why so many of these children are seen just walking the perimeter of the playground, alone, or they are those that sneak into the library to read at recess or lunch. The most concerning is that their unawareness, socially causes them to be targets for bullies. Socially savvy children figure out quite quickly that they can take advantage of these children, and do. This causes much pain for the Aspie child as well as the adults involved.
Commitment: In Feb. 2000, the Friends Club was born. Can you tell us about the Friends Club, its purpose, and how it helped children with Aspergers learn the social skills they need?
Dr. La Brie Norall: Friends' Club is a therapeutic social skills program specific to the aspie or autistic child. Children and teens do not need the diagnosis to join but it is for the socially awkward child or teen who really wants to make a friend but doesn't know how. I explain the birth of Friends 'Club in my book.
I wanted a place where the children and teens feel safe and understood and can work on building successful social skills and understanding that will allow them to make friends. Not to turn them into social butterflies but to help them make a friend or two. In order to keep these kids safe I don't bring in typically developing teens and children. This is specifically done because I understand the anxiety that these bright individuals face as they are very much aware that they are not socially successful. They don't know quite what to do about it but they don't want to be compared to socially successful children as they are working on these skills.
Commitment: What are ten basic social skills that young people with Asperger's lack that they need to be taught?
Dr. La Brie Norall: Well there are so many areas to work on socially. For purposes of this interview, I'll use a list from Richard Lavoie's video "Last One Picked First One Picked On".
He states that socially successful children greet others, smile and laugh, have conversations, and give compliments to one another. These are just a few of the skills we work on in Friends' Club. Let's look at greeting others. Children and teens with AS do not greet others in the traditional way. They may walk up to someone, get into their personal space, and spout off something about blue whales. We teach them through games and activities, why it's important to greet using someone's name or asking someone their name. Children with AS show very little affect. This means that they don't smile and laugh as much, nor show other emotions other than anger (when upset). So we work on facial expressions in Friends' Club.
We had a young adult recently tell us how she JUST learned to look at the eyes and not the mouth to get messages. She is 21 years old! And she learned this in our groups.
Conversations are big. Teaching the back and forth of the conversation is a skill that these wonderful individuals need to learn. In addition, giving compliments. There is a whole chapter on this subject because the person with Asperger's just doesn't get that others like to hear information that they might already know. There are some funny examples in the book. One that comes to mind is when my office mangager's son (who has Aspergers) came into my office and complimented me for wearing a nice dress, only I wasn't wearing a dress. He'd been taught to tell people compliments but didn't really understand what that meant.
Commitment: If a mother came to you and said, "My child is never invited to any of the children's homes to play and has no friends" what skills would you advise she teach her child that might help the situation?
Dr. La Brie Norall: This is the purpose of writing our Quirky book. We give many many examples of ways in which to help your child or teen to be more socially accepted. We need to give opportunities for successful interactions and also to mediate those interactions, as adults.
Commitment: Why is learning something like giving compliments part of the social skills training for those with Asperger's?
Dr. La Brie Norall: Amazingly it does. People thinkers (these are those who don't have Asperger's or autism) like to hear from others about how they think about them. They like to hear that they did something well and that their new haircut looks good. Thing thinkers (people with Asperger's or autism) like to know others think that they are smart but having a nice haircut or looking good isn't as important to them. In addition, they don't understand that others want to hear information that isn't new. From their perspective, you should already KNOW that your haircut looks good; you shouldn't have to be told that.
Commitment: In the Friends Club, how did you go about teaching the children to stop annoying behaviors, like talking too loudly?
Dr. La Brie Norall: We work on this. We use visuals (read the book!! lots of examples) and we also stop the annoying behavior and give them the "Why" it's annoying. We aren't afraid to be direct with them. In the real world people have weird thoughts about them but don't tell them. One part about this population that I absolutely appreciate is that they want you to be totally honest with them. You need to be gentle but I have found that so many want you to say what they can do instead so they can get it right socially. (Yes, there are a few that don't care but I feel that those have been so unsuccessful that they stopped trying a long time ago.)
Commitment: What are some ways to teach those with Asperger's the importance of appearance and grooming? What tips do you have for parents who are trying to cope with a child who doesn't care about fashion or being conventional?
Dr. La Brie Norall: They need to understand the purpose of appearance and why it's important to the people thinkers. Once they grasp some of this and you also meet them half way (they may feel more comfortable in sweats rather than jeans, etc.) a lot can happen. I worked with a young teen in Canada that was most comfortable in women's leggings. This didn't go over well socially. So we worked on him wearing parachute pants over the leggings and then eventually we had him wearing other types of pants and now he wears jeans and clothes that fit in quite well with the rugged outdoor types that are in that area. I saw him in October and he looked quite stylish. But, it was a process. It didn't happen overnight.
Commitment: The art of conversation can be very challenging for those with Asperger's. Can you share with us how these children can be taught the art of conversation, which is the cornerstone of all friendships?
Dr. La Brie Norall: They need to understand that a conversation is to get information about another person that you can use at a later time to gather more information. If I know that you like to travel to Hawaii then I know that I can ask you next time I see you if you've been to Hawaii recently. This gives me a starting point for chit chat. To people with Asperger's chit chat isn't always necessary but they can learn that if they give in a little then they can talk about what is interesting to them. To be real honest, they don't start off at all interested in asking you questions but can learn, in the right environment that getting information about others will eventually lead to making a friend.
Commitment: What stresses do children with Asperger's face at parties? How can some of these problems be avoided or prevented if they are invited to a kid's party?
Dr. La Brie Norall: For the most part, the stresses are sensory in nature. Too many people, too much noise, and or add in the "anticipation" much like the holidays. Beth and I did a nice job of giving strategies in the book that allows for our friends to be a bit more calm in these settings and also there is a social story in the book that helps them to prepare for the unexpected.
Commitment: You explain that Asperger's children can sometimes be very blunt and insulting because feelings don't register with them. How did you go about teaching Asperger's children to be less hurtful in their dealings with others?
Dr. La Brie Norall: We teach them to understand how the information is coming across. We work on tone of voice and practice, practice practice. The important thing to keep in mind is that they don't intend it the way it sounds and when they are told how someone else is perceiving it --it helps. I had one boy shocked that his words hurt. It didn't make sense to him. I also think being direct is the best for these situation.
Commitment: Any advice for parents who find that their child is hurting others at school and are not aware of it?
Dr. La Brie Norall: Well, I'm thinking that it's not just what we do for our friend who is being blunt but also what we do for the other children. We need to try to explain the behaviors rather than act shocked or model for the other children that we will discipline these behaivors. If the adults model punishment then the children will do the same out on the playground and thus the bullying can begin.
Commitment: Children with Asperger's are often bullied and made fun of at school. What are five tips that can help them not become bully magnets?
Dr. La Brie Norall:
1) finding a friend to play with on the playground. bullies choose to target children that are alone.
2) knowing that if they are bullied that they need to tell an adult (many times they don't tell anyone)
3) saying something to the bully. It's been a myth that it's best to just walk away. That only causes more bullying.
4) becoming socially successful (as explained in the book)
5) making a friend
Commitment: How does teaching a child with Asperger's to make eye contact help them secure more friendships?
Dr. La Brie Norall: In our western society using eye contact to indicate we are "listening" is really important. However we don't teach eye contact. We teach what it means to appear to be listening. We don't force something that can be physically painful for our friends.We work on ways to "look in the direction of who we are talking to".
Commitment: What problems socially do children with Asperger's often face every day at school that are very challenging to remedy?
Dr. La Brie Norall: I think the bullying is the most difficult. And from my experience, being misunderstood is the most challenging part of going to school. Tony Attwood, Ph.D. has said that for these individuals often going to school is as anxiety producing as Vietnam War veterans experienced in battle. It's the holding it together to make it through a sensory challenging and socially challenging "war" for them. However, with supports and understanding adults they can make it through in one piece. However, parents need to know that when they get home they need a break, a time to release. Each friend is different so what works for one won't work for another in that down time.
To Purchase "Quirky Yes, Hopeless No" click here.
About the Author: Cynthia La Brie Norall, Ph.D. is a licensed educational psychologist with a Ph.D. in Education. In 2000, she founded the Friends’ Club, based in Carlsbad, California, where she has helped thousands of Asperger’s kids learn basic social skills.