All parents are concerned with who their child spends time with. As the parent of an Asperger’s Disorder child, your concerns are even greater. Should she play with a younger peer, older peer, one who also has Asperger’s Disorder, someone who shares his special interest, or one who is more socially skilled? When researchers have examined which type of peer best suits a child or teen with Asperger’s Disorder, they discovered several interesting findings.
Asperger’s Disorder children demonstrate better social skills when they spend time with peers who share their special interest. They also do better when they interact with peers who function at a similar level of social competence. When a child with Asperger’s Disorder spends time with a more socially skilled peer group, the other children tend to limit their interaction, politely ignore, or exclude the Asperger’s Disorder child. Placing him with more socially advanced peers seems to actually contribute to his social rejection and deprive him of social opportunities to make friends and to work on social skills.
In a one-to-one situation, if a more socially capable peer is willing to play with the Asperger’s Disorder child, the peer carries the weight of the relationship and compensates for the Asperger’s Disorder child’s weaknesses. She will adapt to the Asperger’s Disorder child by letting her be in charge of the play and dominate the conversation, not asking for anything back, much the same way that we as adults accommodate children when we play with them. The same is true when the Asperger’s Disorder child plays with an older child who is more tolerant than age-mates.
While it seems logical to think the Asperger’s Disorder child would learn from watching the older and the more skilled playmate, in reality the Asperger’s Disorder child gets to use even fewer social skills because the older and more skilled peer ignores his social errors and does not pressure him to be an equal playmate. The more capable peers are also likely to quickly tire of the social incompetence of the Asperger’s Disorder child and to terminate the interaction.
In contrast, playing with a socially similar peer creates a situation where each child has to work to match the demands of the relationship. Thus, two Asperger’s Disorder children who have similar levels of social competence and share the same special interest make ideal playmates for one another.