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Guest blogger:  Julie Hornok
As I drove my daughter with autism to six parties on the last week of fifth grade, I realized being intentional with her friendships had paid off.  This did not come easy, nor was it taken for granted. 
Friendships even with typical kids is problematic, so when you add a disability into the mix, it becomes overwhelming for all involved. Along with the simple give-and-take skills, there are expectations, past experiences and many different personalities to consider. It is so complex when you try to break it down to teach a child with autism about friendship, it can sometimes feel impossible.
“One big misconception with autism treatment is that when an individual acquires language, the social skills will follow. This couldn’t be further from the truth because social skills are a core deficit and require the same amount of programming and intervention as language skills do,” says Cristina Busu, MS, BCBA, Clinical Director of Help Hope Solutions.
As parents of kids with autism, we all know life is not fair. So, it won’t come as a surprise to you that in helping your child make friends, you are going to have to, once again, do all the work. But when you sneak around the corner and hear your child giggling with another peer, it is worth all the blood, sweat and tears you poured into it. Here are five tips to cultivate your child’s friendships:
1. Be the Inviter. Families lead such fast-paced lives that even typical kids rarely get together for good ‘ole fashioned playdates. Many parents don’t have time to deal with the planning and organizing involved. Yes, it would be nice if you invited someone over one time and then your child was immediately invited back in return. Unfortunately, the reality is when the other child does invite someone over, your child with autism is not likely to be on the top of their list. Keep inviting over and over and over and eventually a return invite will come.  
2. Plan Fun Activities.  My idea of a great play date is a friend coming over, and then she and my daughter disappear for two hours. Someday….maybe! Until that day comes, it is my job to help her understand how to entertain a guest. Before the play date, we plan and prepare fun activities both kids will enjoy. I help her think through the other child’s interests and what she might want to do; then I prepare her to take turns with her friend in choosing from the list of activities. On the play date, if the conversation lulls, I jump in with a new topic. If the kids aren’t meshing in an activity, I help them gracefully switch to something else. If nothing is working, I bring out the super messy, fun activity no other parent in their right mind would allow their kids to do. For example, if the play date goes downhill, the shaving cream comes out. We do shaving cream on the trampoline, shaving cream wars in the yard, or shaving cream hairstyles. I also keep a stash of cool arts and crafts projects most any kid would enjoy.
3. Engage in Random Acts of Kindness. Thoughtfulness is so important in any friendship. I help my daughter think of what her friends like, and then we write random notes, drop off little fun gifts and go the extra mile with each friend. This way the friend feels loved even though my daughter is sometimes unable to express her genuine interest when they are together. I am amazed at how much my daughter enjoys doing this and often comes up with her own ideas to tell her friends how much she loves them.
4.  Arrange Regular Outings. The more frequent the play dates, the better chance your child has to get to know his peers. We took my daughter’s interests and tried to incorporate other kids into things she already loved to participate in. For example, we set up a gymnastics class for her and her friends at a local gym. We asked a high school student to do a cheer clinic at our house. We invited friends to church on Wednesday nights and drove them both ways. The more activities you are in charge of, the more you can tailor them to ensure your child will stay engaged.
5. Show Gratitude. Yes, you are putting in more effort than the typical parents, but don’t forget to show your gratitude anyway. Make sure to let the other parent know how much you appreciate them allowing their child to come over or participate in an activity. Sometimes if a parent realizes they are really making a difference in your life, they will want to do more to help.
Julie Hornok is an author, speaker, event planner and advocate for autism. Her writing has appeared in Parenting Special Needs MagazineAutism Parenting Magazine, AutismSpot, Thrive Magazine, Literary Mama, Chicken Soup for the Soul series and many more. Her first book, United in Autism: Finding Strength Inside the Spectrum, will be released in October 2018.
When Julie isn’t busy driving her three kids all around town, she loves to bring free pampering events to autism moms through United in Autism. Join her United in Autism Facebook Community for interviews from inspiring autism parents and experts from around the world.