Friendship on the spectrum

Finding friends when you’re on the spectrum can be a massive challenge for some. While most people with autism want to and are able to make friends, their friendships can look somewhat different to those of neurotypical children.

Social interaction is certainly challenging for those on the spectrum, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want friends, they just don’t always know how to go about forming friendships and maintaining them.

People with autism may only have a few close friends, some of those friends will most likely be on the spectrum themselves, whilst others may not be. These friendships may be fleeting and may suffer due to conflicts and misunderstandings as they don’t understand social cues. However, others will form close bonds that can last a lifetime.  

Research shows that autistic children seem to be lonelier, and with loneliness comes concerns of depression and anxiety. In addition, the lack of social connectedness can have an effect on physical health. This is not only true for people on the spectrum, but also for all humans who lack social connections.

Some children will refer to a number of children as their friends, but in reality, the term friend is loose, and those children do not actually see the autistic child as their friend at all. This is noticeable when invitations to birthday parties and social gatherings are handed out. The child with autism will, in most cases, not receive an invitation, despite the fact they may think the birthday child is their best friend.

The playground can be a disaster for some children on the spectrum as they struggle with an exertion on their senses. Too much noise, and too many things going on can make the situation overwhelming. These children may need help to find an alternative to the playground, a place where they can enjoy some quiet time with like-minded children.

For some children on the spectrum the conversation can be very one-way, with many not picking up on social cues and the art of two-way conversation. They can dominate the conversation making it all about a topic of interest to them without realising that the person on the receiving end is completely lost and no longer interested in what they have to say.

Sometimes friendship will form easier online, where social ‘norms’ like looking someone in the eye when you speak to them isn’t required, therefore making the interaction more comfortable. These online friendships can seem to the child on the spectrum as a real and secure friendship, when in reality these two people will most likely never meet each other in person, and it is unlikely the companionship will last for a significant length of time.

Making friends when you’re on the spectrum is hard, but it’s not impossible. Try and find people with similar interest and hopefully you can grow your interests together and have a successful and lasting friendship.

I was so desperate to find friends, that I settled for friends that didn’t respect or value me. This is why young autistics need to learn how to value, love themselves and realise their own self-worth.” – Summer Farrelly, courtesy of Autistic Perspectives.


SASI Guest Parent Blogger

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