As I meet with new parents of neuro-diverse children, meaningful friendships is often one of the key goals they are working towards.
And not without great reason of course. Friendships and meaningful relationships is what gives us all purpose in life. Social interaction is the glue that binds us together, so it makes perfect sense that parents want this for their children.
My aim here is to highlight my belief of why it is so important to focus on the parent/ child relationship before we can expect that reciprocal friendships will develop with children on the spectrum.
Parents are fundamental in leading their child through their developmental path. They know them the best; they love them the most, and they spend the majority of time with them. It makes so much sense they are the ones to 'work' with their child through their developmental path.
In RDI the term 'co-regulation' describes an ‘in-sync’ response between two people. An understanding that ones actions and thoughts depend entirely on the other person’s actions and thinking. It is the basis for all social interaction. It is through this process of co-regulation that the child learns to tune into their parents, making it easier for the parent/s to engage them in developmental progression that allows flexible, self-initiated dynamic thinking and communication to unfold. By learning to co-regulate with others, the child is then open to being guided by others in making meaning of their own world and the world around them.
By nurturing the parent/ child relationship through their daily lives and supporting parents to focus on their communication environment the child begins to develop further trust in this relationship, maintaining the back and forth in an engagement or activity.
This evolving parent/ child relationship enables the child to develop a greater sense of self, develop competency and confidence in areas they find challenging. It is from this development that facilitates the ability for the child to establish and maintain relationships with an ever-widening number of people (extended family, teachers and then peers).
By focusing on the trusting relationships with parents and other main adults in their lives, the child can be guided to develop cognitive growth, communication growth and grow in their ability to have social relationships with other people. So you can see why nurturing and focusing on the parent/ child relationship first is so crucial, before expecting that our kids will be successful making friendships in the playground.