Advice often means more when it comes from someone who has walked in your shoes. Perhaps these tips for making friends from an autistic teen will spark some inspiration!
There’s a common misconception that autistic girls are anti-social and don’t want to have friends. This is untrue. Most of us want to have social lives, friendships, and a sense of belonging, just like other teenagers.
Friendships can be extremely positive and beneficial. A friend is someone you can talk to about your interests, someone who gives you advice and guidance and supports you during difficult times. Friendships can make navigating our teenage years easier.
Being autistic is simply another way of being
What distinguishes us from other teenagers is that social skills and interactions don’t come naturally to us. Almost all autistic people find it hard to make and keep friends. Most of us struggle to understand body language and to pick up subtle social cues. We tend to be literal, to speak our minds, and to find sarcasm confusing. Many of us also suffer from debilitating social anxiety, making us appear unfriendly, distant, and aloof. We’re also sometimes perceived as being odd and eccentric.
Our social skill difficulties become even more challenging in our teenage years when social interactions become more complex and harder to decipher. Despite these social challenges, most autistic girls want to be like other teenagers. We want to have friends who understand, encourage, and support us. We want to have fun. We want to have the typical high school experience.
Although making and maintaining friendships is harder for autistic girls, we have many of the essential qualities that make us ideally suited to being a good friend. Since we know what it’s like to be bullied and judged for being different, our experiences have made us more compassionate, kind, and accepting of others.
To help young women on the spectrum harness their amazing qualities into making and maintaining your friendships, here are my top tips for being a good friend:
Top tips for being a good friend
1. Be a good listener
- Take the time to truly understand and support your friend when he/she is talking to you. It’s important to make sure that you’re listening as much as you’re talking about yourself. If you’re monopolizing every conversation, your friend isn’t getting anything out of the relationship
- It’s vital that you truly listen and are not just waiting for your friend to finish talking so you can say what you want to say. If you’re waiting to speak, your friend will pick up on this. I suggest that you try to strike a balance by letting your friend talk about half of the time
- Unfortunately, if your friend feels like he/she can’t get a word in when they’re around you, it’ll be hard to have a balanced friendship. If you find that you frequently (accidentally) interrupt your friends, say something like: “Oh, I’m so sorry, go on.”
2. Be dependable
- One of the most important aspects of being a good friend is being dependable. Your friend should be able to rely on you for encouragement and support. Nobody wants to be friends with someone who isn’t there for them. Your friends should always feel like they can count on you, especially when the going gets tough. If you’re only there for the fun and carefree times, you’ll be no more than a superficial, fair-weather friend
3. Be loyal
- Always be loyal to your friends, and be prepared to defend them if others start gossiping about them. If your friend tells you something in confidence, don’t talk about it with anyone else. After all, you wouldn’t be happy if someone you confided in told everyone your secret
- If you get a reputation for being a gossip, your friends will stop confiding in you and may even decide that you can’t be trusted. This could jeopardize your relationships
4. Give thoughtful advice
- Being a good friend involves seeing your friend’s situation from his/her perspective and providing your advice without insisting that your friend does whatever you say
- Although it’s hard to do, try to avoid giving unsolicited advice to your friends. Instead, only share your advice when your friends have asked you for it. Giving unsolicited advice could be interpreted as you lecturing or being bossy and overbearing
5. Disagree with your friend in a respectful way
- At some point, good friends will disagree with each other. After all, we all have different views and perspectives. A disagreement doesn’t have to be a big deal. On the occasions when you don’t see eye to eye, disagree respectfully, and be willing and open to seeing things from your friend’s perspective
- Respect your friend’s feelings and generally respect him/her as a person. Good friends show respect for each other by being openly and mutually supportive
- Remember that you want to be a positive addition to your friends’ lives. When a friend shares something that you find objectionable, or you disagree with his/her opinion, it’s okay to say so. In a non-judgmental way, let your friend know what you think and why
6. Be generous
- Although you shouldn’t be generous all the time, being generous with your time and affection is an essential aspect of being a good friend. Accommodate your friend’s wishes whenever you can, provided this is done in a fair and balanced way
- Do something nice for your friend just out of the goodness of your heart, not because you want something in return. Reciprocate his/her acts of kindness with caring deeds of your own. If you get a reputation for being selfish, demanding, and only being around your friends when you need their help, people will be less likely to want to be your friend
- A word of warning—there’s a big difference between being generous at the right time and letting people take advantage of you. If you feel like you’re always helping your friends and getting nothing in return, then you may have a problem
7. Help your friends with their struggles / in times of crisis
- Try to be the kind of person your friends turn to in a crisis. Let your friends know they can lean on you and be their shoulder to cry on when times are tough
- If your friend feels less alone, it’ll be easier for him/her to deal with his/her troubles. Don’t feel pressured to fix your friend’s problems. Sometimes just listening and being there is the best way to be a good friend
- If your friend is going through a crisis, try to help in any way that you can. For example, if your friend is sick and absent from school, take class notes for him/her
- Part of supporting your friend is providing emotional support. Sometimes it can be hard to know what to say. I suggest you avoid saying something like: “Everything will be alright” unless you know this for sure. Giving false reassurance, no matter how well-intended, can make the situation worse. Instead, let your friend know you’re there for him/her. You don’t have to say anything if you can’t find the right words. Sometimes just listening is enough
8. Learn how to take a joke
- Jokes among friends can make friendship fun and amusing. If you’re sensitive to jokes or being teased, work on learning to accept well-intended and affectionate jokes and teasing. However, keep in mind that there is a fine line between teasing and bullying. Sometimes it can be hard to distinguish between the two. If your feelings are hurt, or you feel that the teasing is getting out of hand, don’t be afraid to tell your friend. A good friend will be respectful of your feelings
9. Be yourself!
- Be the best version of yourself. Don’t change who you are so you can make a new friend. Pretending to be someone that you’re not will take its toll on you and will eventually backfire. Not being yourself also calls into question the entire friendship. After all, the friendship can’t be authentic if you don’t reveal the real you
Never forget that you’re fabulous the way you are. Don’t settle or change yourself and your values to make friends. Be real and be you, because you’re awesome and autistic.
This article was featured in Issue 123 of Autism Parenting Magazine – Autism In Girls