The Worst Advice
A common saying when teaching social skills to children on the autism spectrum is "fake it till you make it." In other words, use mirroring techniques and pretend to be interested in things they don't have an interest in, in exchange for social acceptance. This may be the single worst piece of advice to give to a child whose most important developmental task is personality formation, self awareness, and self acceptance. Children's main task is to develop a unique identity by discovering their own likes and dislikes and social preferences. This is especially true during adolescence and the teenage years.
Erik Eriksons Psychosocial Tasks
Erik Erikson, a developmental psychologist wrote extensively on what he called psychosocial tasks. Erikson created a roadmap for which tasks are most relevant at each stage of life. The fifth stage that Erikson suggested is the primary task of adolescence and teenage year is identity vs. role confusion, occurring from about 12-18 years. During this stage, adolescents search for a sense of self and personal identity, through an intense exploration of personal values, beliefs and goals. It is during this time that they either discover a strong sense of self, or develop a habit of grasping after whichever trend or mannerism will temporarily get them social acceptance from their peers.
The Best Advice is Usually the Simplest
People are drawn to qualities of self confidence, ease, and empathy. All of these characteristics stem from self-awareness and self-acceptance. At this stage, the best thing adults can do it to guide children towards self awareness and self acceptance. Here are five tips to help your child develop self-awareness and self-acceptance.
1. Encourage your child to explore many interests but don't try to turn them away from interests that seem too intense or out of sync with peers.
2. Use open ended questions to draw out and help them articulate what they like and why. Focus on internal states rather than external rewards. "How does it make you feel when you are deeply involved in your interest?"
3. Set them up for social success by connecting them with peers who share their interest. There are clubs for everything. If there isn't something local you can help them to find a community of peers online with the appropriate online safety rules and supervision.
4. Foster a balance between solitude and social interaction. Usually any hobby has elements that can be done solo like research, and social such as forums or conversation.
5. Help them find common ground with peers based on what they enjoy about their interest beyond the specific interest. For example if your child likes collecting Pokemon cards, you might help them connect with other kids who are collectors or card players rather than just Pokemon players.