What are friends?
This might sound like a daft question, but friendship can mean different things to different people, which can be confusing. But, generally, a friend is someone you choose to spend time with because you enjoy their company, and being with them makes you feel happy and safe.
You trust them, and you know they have your best interests at heart. You may also share interests and have common views.
I find socialising hard – do I have to have friends?
This is totally up to you! Some people with autism find it difficult being around other people. If this is you, and you’re happy in your own company, don’t feel pressured to ‘make yourself’ have friends.
“There’s a lot of social pressure to have friends, but if you want to be on your own, that’s fine,” says Tom Bailey, who works with autistic students. “As long as you’re happy, that’s all that’s important.”
How can I tell if someone’s a real friend?
Human beings can be just plain odd when it comes to social relationships, so knowing whether someone's a true friend can be difficult. Here are some common problems to look out for:
- If someone accepts your friends request online it doesn’t always mean they actually consider you a friend. They may just be being polite, or want to look popular. If you write them more than two messages online and they don’t reply, it’s best to leave them alone at this point.
- If someone is initially friendly, but then acts really bored when you start talking to them, they’re unlikely to be a potential friend. Say goodbye and put your efforts into someone who acts like they’re pleased to see you.
- If someone makes jokes about you or makes you do things you don’t want to do, they're not friends. Friends don’t make each other feel like that.
Where can I find new friends?
Friends often (but not always) have lots in common. So it makes sense to look in places where people have the same interests as you – maybe a club, or an online community where everyone’s there for the same reason. Then you’ll have something to talk about, making conversation loads easier.
How do you make friends if you have autism?
The same way as everybody does – by talking to people so you can get to know them and see if you get on. It can be scary speaking to new people in person or online. However, this isn’t just an autism thing. Most people find this a bit daunting.
If you're meeting someone face to face and;
- They make eye contact with you
- They say hello
- They turn their body towards you
- They aren’t already talking to someone else;
Then chances are, they're happy to talk to you.
- Try browsing or ‘lurking’ for a while to get to know how a community works before posting.
- Introduce yourself before making your first post.
- Be humble – communities quickly get angry with ‘arrogant’ newbies.
- Remember jokes can easily get taken the wrong way online.
If you’re thinking of joining an online community to make friends, you can find in-depth advice here.
What do I talk about?
When you don't know someone very well, it's best to stick to 'neutral' topics of conversation, such as films, books, TV programmes, music, or the weather. Sometimes people with autism have subjects they're really interested in and want to talk about lots. However, potential new friends may find this off-putting.
Safe ways to start a conversation
"Hello, how are you? My name’s...”
"What brings you here today?"
Top tip – ask questions
One of the best ways to make conversation is to ask questions and really listen to the answers. It shows that you're interested in that person. Then, if they ask you questions back, you can begin to have a conversation.
Things not to do in a conversation
- Interrupt. Wait for a gap in talking before you say something.
- Go suddenly off topic – if someone's talking about, say, the weather, it’s best to stick to what they’re talking about.
- Don’t ask people direct questions about their personal lives, like asking how much money they earn. Wait until you know them better.
- Try not to make comments on their appearance, unless it’s something you like about how they look. Even then, be careful. Any comment about their body is usually a dangerous area. So, “I like your jumper, it’s very pretty,” is OK, but, “I like how long your legs are,” isn’t.
What if someone's being unfriendly?
You may find some people just aren't very receptive when you're trying to talk to them. If they're looking away, yawning, or saying they have to go, it usually means they want the conversation to end.
It's worth remembering that this isn't always a reflection on you, or whether or not they like you, or find you strange or boring. Sometimes people are tired because they've not slept well, or they might be in a rush to get somewhere else. They may even be feeling sad because of something else happening in their life and just aren't in the mood for talking.