Supporting the development of friendship skills

This unit looks at the importance of pupils with autism developing friendship skills.

Areas covered in the unit include:

  • Friendship for children with autism.
  • Difficulties with the social behaviours necessary to make and maintain friendships.
  • The social and emotional benefits of having friends for children with autism.
  • Increasing peer awareness and support.
  • Raising peer awareness about autism.

A study carried out by Sigman and Capps (1997) suggests that children on the autism spectrum may have difficulty socialising and making friends. The study asked 22 high-functioning children with autism the question, 'Who are your friends?'


Friendship for pupils on the autism spectrum

1. High-functioning pupils with autism

High-functioning pupils with autism

Average of 2 friends

10% with 0 friends

2. Typically developing pupils

Typically developing pupils

Average of 18 friends

  • Peer support: a case study

    This case study looks at the system of peer support at Hendon School, a large mainstream secondary school in North London. It features interviews with peer supporters and the pupils receiving support, giving insight into the benefits for all pupils and how the system successfully promotes inclusion.

    This video clip relates to task 1 in your PDF of unit 15.

    Show transcript


    Hendon School is a large mainstream secondary school in North London. With a resource provision for students on the autism spectrum. For the past few years the school has been utilising the skills of typically developing students to support pupils from the provision.

    Classroom interaction

    Teacher: Can you think a little bit about what is good about being a peer supporter?

    Pupil: When you're a peer supporter you get lots of experience in being with children with autism, but also you feel that you've done something good for somebody else who needs more support.

    Teacher: Fantastic, anybody else?


    My role is to help them in classes and at break times and lunchtimes, social times when they're finding it hard. To make school enjoyable for them and not make it hard for them because some autistic children will find school very hard.


    Starting in year seven, the peer supporters receive child line training which includes counselling and active listening skills. This is coupled in training in the understanding of autism.


    The support I get when I'm a peer supporter is, if I'm unsure of about what to do, you can ask any of the TA's or Caroline, or someone who knows about autism quite well. So you can ask them and they will be able to sort it out, or advise you on what to do. They will help you.

    Caroline Downs ??? Manager of Hendon Resource Provision

    The system of peer support has enormous benefits for everybody. In terms of the students being supported - massive benefits. So to have a network of peer supporters in whom we have total confidence, is critical.

    Classroom interaction

    Patrick: Don't, don't look.

    Pupil 1: Patrick, you're looking at it.

    Pupil 2: You shouldn't look at your card remember.

    Patrick: Oh no.


    If you didn't have a peer supporter then life would be harder because you wouldn't have anyone to rely on. I would actually feel less confident because I'm like thinking to myself ???hmm what's happened to my peer supporters???? or ???why have I got no peer supporters???? it really it would be really weird actually.


    Mainstream peers offer social and emotional support to students with autism, but support can also be given in classroom settings.


    Parissa is in my maths class and if I got stuck I might ask Parissa and she's quite good at explaining it.


    The peer support system at Hendon school has proven successful in terms of inclusion, increasing the independence and social skills of those students being supported, as well as developing emotional intelligence, and a sense of commitment for the supporters.

As the image below demonstrates, buddy systems can be used to support a pupil with autism throughout the school day.


Buddy systems

The school day

Work buddy; to be a partner in a lesson.

Transition buddy; to support movement around the school.

Playground buddy; to assist in playground games and activities. A playground buddy will also guide a peer in protocols such as lining up.

Lunchtime buddy; to act as an eating partner and to help with activities such as queuing up and choosing food.

Special event buddy; to offer support during special events.