AUTISM AND FRIENDSHIP

BECOMING A GOOD FRIEND TO AN AUTISTIC PERSON

Friendship is a kind of relationship that many humans learn innately and is taught to many of us at an early age. We attempt to make new friends by sensing the other’s psyche, reading welcoming cues and likeable features, and then introducing ourselves in the hope that the other person will do the same. As they say, the number of friends you have quite determines how likeable you are as a person, although this may still be debatable. Undoubtedly still, the value of friendship in our lives is constantly highlighted on many occasions and circumstances, further supporting the adage: “No man is an island”. It is also in this same context that we think about how socially withdrawn individuals can gain new friends and foster friendship despite their condition. Those who are on the autism spectrum for example, often develop speech and communication challenges which make it difficult for them to interact with other people. Earning new friends for autistic people may not be as achievable as what neurotypical people would think, although the fact that they do need friends on their side still remains. To help autistic people live a more worthwhile life, you can try meeting them halfway by making the first move in creating friendly ties. Here are some of the better ways to befriend an autistic person.

Understand that autistic people also value friendship

The first step in befriending an autistic person is realizing that like neurotypical people, they, too, need a companion whom they can share their thoughts and sentiments with, a confidant who can keep their secrets safe, a counselor who helps them discern the right and wrong, and a motivator who constantly encourages them to do things. It may not show that they’re eager in making friends with other people like you, but it’s because of their communication and social challenges getting in the way. Once you try to get to know an autistic person, you’ll come to realize that they are human beings with emotions too, and just as diverse as every people you know. Some might try to avert your attempt of bonding with them, while others are more welcoming about it. In any case, you just have to be as friendly as you can so that they will know that you only mean well.  Special interests are a huge thing for autistic people, and letting them know that you also share the same interest is a huge leap in helping them gain more confidence to engage in a conversation with you.

Always make your conversations as clear as possible

Autistic people are often misunderstood as insensitive and heartless just because they cannot easily read facial expressions and body language. Nurture your friendship by keeping this thought always in mind to avoid getting offended or hurt for no apparent reason aside from your autistic friend not getting the gist of your conversation. Instead of using figures of speech, jargons and ambiguous phrases, try to make your statements as short and snappy as possible. Your manner of speaking is also a factor in helping your autistic person understand you, which includes your tone, rhythm, and volume of speech. It is also common for those on the spectrum to process information a little longer than neurotypical ones, so when you raise questions, you have to be patient and wait for them to respond accordingly instead of getting frustrated and discouraged to continue the talk.

Always make time for them

Do not make your friendship a casual one if you really want to become a good friend for your autistic buddy. The fact that you may be their only known companion, imagine how your friend would feel if you only meet once or twice a month. Autistic people easily become the target of bullying when they are alone, hence you must see to it that your presence is there when they need you the most. Establish regular interactions with them as much as possible, so that they feel important and appreciated most of the time. If you are both studying at the same school, join your friend during recess and lunch breaks, as well as in coming to, and leaving school. Set up a study schedule where you can both help each other out, or join the same club so you can be at the same time and venue for meetings and events. If school stuff is out of topic, simply scheduling a regular outing, movie date, and other activities are great ways to always keep in touch with your autistic friend.

Do not be too controlling

Letting your autistic friend know that you’re concerned with their appearance and behaviour is one thing, but trying to change your friend into how you want them to look like or act is another thing. Aside from the fact that autistic people do not like to embrace drastic changes especially those without great reasoning behind it,  they can also get easily offended if you don’t realize their own efforts in meeting your expectations and making the necessary adjustments to strengthen your friendship. As their friend, you should know how important it is for them to have someone like you on their side, and it is often needless to say that they are trying their best to become a better friend for you. So instead of saying commanding statements like “you need to change your fashion style”, go for more suggestive phrases like “we can go and check out that clothing store and see what looks good on you”. Instead of simply stating the fact that they stutter when talking to somebody else, try to improve this aspect by practising out real-life conversations with your autistic friend.

Stand up for them

One of the best proofs of true friendship is when both people are sticking up for each other at tough times and situations. When your autistic friend is disrespected or misunderstood, you should be there defending their side and fending off undesirable people. Be one of the most valuable support systems for your autistic friend.