We commonly hear people talk about how Autistic children have difficulty making friends. A primary area of concern may be that they cannot look other people in the eye. The child may also somehow seem off, which is easily recognized by other children and forces them into the role of social outcast. A first reaction to intervention may be to condition them to look others in the eye or develop age appropriate humor and other social skills. But from the standpoint of Aikido, the root of friendship is not looking someone in the eye or telling jokes.
To be a good friend as an adult, one must think about the deepest concerns another person faces and help them address these issues in a manner that can lead to genuine peace and happiness. To perform this task, one must learn to be compassionate towards others. Then one must study in depth how a person can become peaceful and happy, so they can help others achieve that goal. One then goes out into the world and takes responsibility to help others achieve these benefits in all of their relationships. When one is a good friend as suggested here, they will be respected and appreciated irrespective of how socially inept they may be. Compassionate action is thus the foundation of genuine friendship.
While all this would obviously be overwhelming to an Autistic child, the key point to help them develop friendships is to lay the groundwork for this process to unfold throughout their life. The process begins with empathy and compassion. It also ends with empathy and compassion. The primary obstacle to development of these skills is the child’s own condition and concern for themselves. The most direct way to work with the condition is to teach the child to relax and become peaceful themselves first. Then they can face more challenging situations with the hope of a better outcome when the foundation of their response emerges out of this more relaxed feeling. With better results, they build more confidence, which leads to the ability to be more relaxed. In this manner a virtuous cycle is begun.
During the practice, children are encouraged to examine how they feel themselves and then look outside themselves to see how others feel. They are taught intellectually to have a concern for others because everyone wants to be happy, just like them. Over time as this idea is addressed in many circumstances, the child begins to internalize the intellectual ideas that lead to empathy and compassion. With a focus on compassion, the child will be better prepared to build out their “social” skills, which are in this case a fuller definition of a good friend as described above.
Parents always want the best for their children. So when looking to help them in certain areas such as social interaction, the critical point is to target the most important benefits over the entire lifetime of the child. With this more complete picture, a parent can align the growth process for their child to one that can lead effectively to a greater sense of peace and happiness over the long run.