Navigating Friendship: Tips for Autistic Individuals
June 07, 2023
As an autistic person who has friendships with both autistic and non-autistic folks, I can say that building successful friendships across the neurodiversity spectrum requires mutual respect, understanding, and a willingness to embrace differences.
For me, friendships with other autistic people often come naturally. We share similar experiences and challenges, and we can relate to each other’s perspectives in a way that feels validating and affirming. Our friendships are built on a foundation of mutual understanding, acceptance, and support.
On the other hand, friendships with non-autistic people can sometimes feel more challenging. I may struggle to pick up on social cues or understand non-literal language, and my sensory sensitivities can make certain activities or environments uncomfortable for me. But with patience, communication, and a willingness to learn from each other, these friendships can be just as meaningful and rewarding as friendships with other autistic people.
Here are some tips that I have found helpful in building successful friendships with both autistic and non-autistic individuals:
It’s important to communicate your needs and boundaries clearly and assertively. Let your friends know what kind of social situations or environments you are comfortable with, and what kind of support or accommodations you might need. Being open and honest about your needs can help your friends understand you better and create a more comfortable and inclusive friendship.
Autistic people may process information differently, struggle with social interactions, or experience sensory overload. Non-autistic friends may not understand these experiences, but being patient and understanding can go a long way in building a strong and supportive friendship. Give your friends the time and space they need to feel comfortable and confident, and try to see things from their perspective as well.
Autistic people may have unique interests, strengths, and challenges. Embrace and celebrate these differences, and be willing to learn more about what makes your friend tick. Similarly, share your own interests and talents with your friends, and encourage them to embrace and celebrate your differences as well.
Finding mutual interests and activities can help build a strong foundation for a friendship. Whether it’s playing video games, going for a hike, or watching a movie, finding something you both enjoy can create shared experiences and memories that strengthen your bond.
Autistic people often face unique challenges and barriers, but we also have many strengths and talents to celebrate. Similarly, non-autistic friends may have their own successes and accomplishments to celebrate. Take the time to acknowledge and celebrate each other’s successes, no matter how small they may seem.
In addition to these tips, there are some other things to keep in mind when building friendships with autistic people. One of the most important things is to avoid stereotypes and assumptions about autism. Not all autistic people are alike, and each person has their own unique strengths, challenges, and needs. Taking the time to get to know the individual, rather than making assumptions based on stereotypes or media portrayals, is crucial for building a genuine and respectful friendship.
Another important thing to remember is that autistic people may communicate and express emotions differently than non-autistic people. This can lead to misunderstandings or misinterpretations if both parties are not aware of these differences. Autistic people may have trouble reading non-verbal cues or may express emotions in a more subdued or muted way. Non-autistic friends can help bridge this gap by being clear and direct in their communication, and by asking for clarification or checking in if they are unsure about something.
Finally, it’s important to recognize that building friendships takes time and effort. It’s not always easy to navigate the complexities of neurodiversity, but the rewards of a genuine and supportive friendship are well worth it. By embracing differences, being patient and understanding, and focusing on mutual interests and activities, you can build successful friendships with both autistic and non-autistic people that enrich your life and the lives of those around you.
Hana Gabrielle Bidon is a Technology Business Systems Associate at Wells Fargo and a freelance writer on Medium. She is diagnosed with Autism and ADHD (Combined Type) and often writes about neurodiversity, mental health, AI, technology, and diversity in STEM. In addition to her professional work, Hana Gabrielle enjoys writing, reading, hiking, swimming, and rock climbing. You can follow her on Medium at hanagabrielle.medium.com and visit her website at hanagabriellebidon.github.io. Connect with her on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/hgbidon.