The Typically Developing Person’s Guide to Making Friends with Autistic People

The Typically Developing Person’s Guide to Making Friends with Autistic People

Just as each autistic person is unique, each relationship that they form will also be one of a kind.  Autistic people bring their own unique perspectives and qualities to their friendships, which might be a little different than those of typically developing people.  If you become friends with an autistic person, your friendship can be made even stronger if you understand some of the differences in how autistic people communicate and relate to people socially.  Below, we discuss some things a typically developing person may want to consider or keep in mind when interacting with and becoming friends with an autistic person to make their friendship flourish. 

Be patient. 

  • Autistic people may take longer to respond during conversations. It is important to give them ample amounts of time to answer or respond.
  • Conversely, if they are interested in the topic of conversation, some autistic people may speak at length and in a lot of detail about that topic.
  • Some autistic people may not have the same physical or social boundaries as you. They may stand close to you, touch or hug you or ask you personal questions about yourself.

Be supportive.

  • Support them if they ask for your help. Be aware of what they might need or want, even if it doesn’t seem important to you. For example, some autistic people have very particular food tastes due to color or texture (i.e. They may only eat foods that are green.)
  • You can also help them with their social skills, including picking up on social cues, by involving them with conversations with your other friends.
  • Try not to make choices for them in social situations but allow them to make their own choices.
  • Be aware of sensory overload triggers and issues that may arise in public situations. Some autistic people do not do well with large crowds, noises, lights, strong smells. You may need to keep this in mind when choosing activities or locations to spend time together.

Try to find common ground or interests. 

  • Many autistic people may have very specific interests or hobbies. Having common interests is a great way to spend time together. This can also help with keep a conversation ongoing. You can also offer them different topics to choose from or bridging topics to something they’re interested in.
  • Some autistic people may have little or no verbal skills. In these cases, it may be more difficult to find topics of conversation that are of common interest, and you may need to rely on finding a common activity to together, such as crafts, building model planes or cars or playing cards.

Use concise language. 

  • Autistic people do well with clarity rather than vagueness. They tend to think very literally and do not respond well to idioms, figures of speech, slang or sarcasm. For example, instead of saying “It’s time to call it a day”, say “I’m going to leave and go to home now.”

Keep a routine, when possible.

  • Autistic people do very well with rigid routines and schedules, and they may become overwhelmed or thrown off when that routine is deviated from.
  • This can be especially important when also considering sensory issues related to public spaces. It may be best to routinely meet for lunch after the lunch rush has subsided rather than when the restaurant or coffee shop is the busiest. Work together to find a time that works, and then keep it consistent.

Be aware of the spectrum of autism.

  • “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” – Dr. Stephen Shore
  • The above are some suggestions of how to be a good friend to a person with autism; however, it is important for you to ask your friend or their family member about how you can help them with their specific wants and needs when spending time with them.

An autistic meltdown is an autistic person’s response to a particularly overwhelming situation or stimulus. They shut down or become unable to control their behavior. It can be expressed by verbal shouting, screaming or crying, physical kicking or lashing out or both. It is important to note that a meltdown is not the same as a temper tantrum and it is not bad behavior from not getting their way. It is also important to note that in addition to meltdowns, autistic individuals can also react to overstimulation by withdrawing or refusing to interact with anyone. [2]

If you are with your friend when they become overwhelmed, the best thing to do is:

  • Remove the stimulus/stimuli or remove your friend from the situation to a quiet, safe space.
  • Give them time to recover. This may take some time.
  • Calmly ask them if they are alright or what else they might need from you. Keep in mind it may take them some time to respond to you.

To learn more information about autism, click here.


References and Resources

Milestones Autism Resources Meltdowns – a guide for all audiences

MedlinePlus: Autism Spectrum Disorder

Other resources you may be interested in

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