Henry is a little boy who wants a friend. He is trying to work out why some of the children in his class don’t do friendship the way he does, or stick to his rules. He is bewildered by how they behave. When he tries to connect, it seems to go wrong, for reasons he can’t quite understand. In time, he finds Katie & they play together, each in their own way. This story gently explores how a child with autistic traits might navigate the challenges they face in school, & how this makes them feel.
Play provides opportunities for children to develop friendships & social skills but this is easier for some children than for others. For those who are neuro-divergent in ways that lead to them struggling with unstructured time, sensory processing & with reading social cues, the classroom & playground can be a lonely, frustrating & even frightening place. This most certainly includes many children with attachment difficulties because of childhood trauma, a significant number of whom will have a dual diagnosis of autism.
Many parents & carers of such children that I have worked with in family therapy have expressed their heartache about how hard it is for their child to make or retain friendships. They just don’t have the same level of emotional maturity as their peers, & struggle with relating well. Let loose in the playground, their child is the one who engages in silly, risky or challenging behaviour & then gets into trouble.
These are the children that need more structure & supervision in school. More time 1:1 or in small groups, with a key adult to help them practice & develop their social skills & feel safe in relationships. Over time, that structure can be relaxed at a pace that allows the child to succeed in their play, rather than constantly get into scrapes. Books & games that encourage turn taking & cooperation at a level that meets the child’s developmental needs rather than their chronological age, can be a useful part of this support.
When Henry gets really frustrated, his teacher sits him close until he is calm again. Let’s think about this as good co-regulation, rather than punishment. A Friend for Henry helps explore & explain difference in a kind & simple way. It shows us that with patience, acceptance & support, friendships can flourish & that’s what all our children deserve.