You’ve got a friend in me
Top tips on building strong relationships with people with autism
We all need companionship in life, and people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are no different. Whether it’s our friendships, our family, or romantic relationships, it’s healthy to build connections and share our lives.
For people with ASD, difficulties with communication and social interaction, such as trouble recognising non-verbal cues, can make this difficult. There are so many ‘unwritten rules’ when it comes to navigating social situations. This can be a minefield for a person on the autism spectrum; they may be mistakenly seen as rude or unfeeling.
So how can we make people with ASD feel more comfortable, and build healthy relationships? Below are some tips on getting to know someone with autism.
Mean what you say, and say what you mean
People with autism may not understand sarcasm, subtext, or figures of speech. When communicating use clear, literal, and plain language. Using short sentences and allowing enough time to respond is key.
For someone with autism, it can be difficult to notice how other people are feeling from their facial expression, tone of voice, and body language. They might misinterpret a person’s friendliness for romantic interest, or not pick up on someone’s signals that they don’t want to spend time with them.
Communication is key in any relationship, however, it can be even more important for people with ASD – be clear, direct and straightforward.
Getting to know you
Every individual with autism is exactly that – an individual! Just because a person is on the autism spectrum doesn’t mean they’ll have the same interests, skills, abilities, and personality traits as someone else with autism.
When meeting someone with ASD, like with any person, it’s important to notice things about them and adjust our behaviour to match. Chatting with them and their family can be a good start.
Are they comfortable being near us? Do they seem to want to talk to us? Is the topic interesting and comfortable for them? Maybe they prefer to do an activity? Ask yourself all of these questions, which is common when building any relationship.
A little understanding
Many people with ASD are sensitive to things like sounds, colours, tastes, smells, and texture. So, it’s important to take the time to understand and respect a person’s boundaries and what they’re comfortable with in their relationship with you. For example, you might like to greet with a hug, but this could be overwhelming and unwelcome for a person with autism.
It’s important not to try to change your friend or their behaviour so it’s more ‘acceptable’ to you – love and accept them as they are.