My daughter doesn't understand her new friend's behaviour...
Written by Nicola Botterill on 27/08/2012
Q. My 12 year old daughter made friends with a girl on her school bus and they have spent time together outside of school. I noticed that her friend has certain autistic traits but it hasn’t been a problem until now. My daughter is becoming irritated by her friend’s lack of interest in her. Conversation is one way, dominated by her friend, she doesn’t look at my daughter or acknowledge that she’s listening to what she’s saying. My daughter has made friends with other girls, but her friend off the bus monopolises her, cutting across people who are talking, shouting out silly words and other behaviour which my daughter finds embarrassing. She would like to spend time alone with her other friends but she doesn’t want to hurt this girl’s feelings. I’ve explained I think her friend has different ways of communicating and she doesn’t mean to be rude. I want my daughter to remain friends with the girl, to teach her you don’t drop one friend when you make new friends and that we’re all different, but how should I approach this so my daughter will understand?
A. You may be right, it may indeed be the case that this child has certain traits of ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder). Alternatively it might also be that this child needs to be talked to about how to make and keep friends and the benefits of having a wide circle of friends, personal boundaries and so on. Have you thought about speaking to the teachers (possibly a Year Head or Form Tutor) at school to explain the difficulties your daughter is having, so that they can support her? You are not alone in this with her and it would also be interesting to see what their advice is, given that they should be able to recognise the situation you are describing and will know the friend, and how she is managing in class and so on. They will not be at liberty to tell you anything about the friend’s individual circumstances, but they might be able to help explore some strategies for your daughter such as ensuring that teachers put the girls in different groups within classes, or even in some completely different classes, so there is a mixture of having time apart as well as being together. It is, as you say, good for young people to realise there are a lot of different types of people in the world, and during the ‘selfish teenage years’ to look outside themselves and learn to support others, and we must show them the way in this.
How well do you know your daughter’s friend’s parents? It sounds like you might try and get to know them a little better if at all possible as this may be helpful. Once you do know them a little better, hopefully, as adults together, you will be able to explore the situation and see the issues for both of the girls, and help to support them both. They might be able and prepared to explain how ‘some people might feel’ to their daughter and help manage her expectations of friendship too. If ASD is discussed and confirmed then your daughter might enjoy reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon, or My Brother is Different: A Book for Young Children Who Have a Brother or Sister with Autism by Louise Gorrod.
Also have you thought about inviting her other friends over from time to time to help her create time alone with them as well? This may help your daughter to forge stronger friendships with them at school. Also encourage your daughter to get involved in new activities at school so she widens her circle of friends and does some things without her bus friend and develops her independence. Inevitably if your daughter finds some of the behaviour of her friend embarrassing, so will some of the other children, although they are usually all incredibly accommodating when they realise that there is a reason for the behaviour, if there is. They are also usually pretty straightforward in telling others about things they don’t like.
It sounds like you aim to encourage your daughter to have a broad outlook on life; to have the empathy and ease to mix with and get along with people of all sorts of different backgrounds, the assertiveness and confidence without arrogance to stand up for herself and deal with difficulties, and also the self awareness and resilience to know that sometimes you do need to have difficult conversations, and you will survive them. Difficult lessons to learn at any age, but essential.
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