I’m a high school student with Aspergers. I want to have some friends, but can’t seem to find any. It’s like they don’t want anything to do with me. How can I make at least a few friends?
Friendships are usually built on one or more things of shared interest between two individuals. Friends share their thoughts and feelings as well as experiences. Teenagers with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism tend to be very open and honest and willing to share themselves with others, which are traits that friends will value. However, some peers may not value this trait. They may not be ready to be open and honest and share personal information about themselves with you, so it makes them feel uncomfortable when you offer these things to them.
Some non-Aspergers teens like to take the development of friendships slowly. When someone asks you questions about yourself (e.g., where you were born, what school do you attend, what do you like to do), they are indicating that they have a possible interest in becoming your buddy. That doesn’t mean they will become your buddy, only that they are interested in finding out if you both share enough interests to possibly become buddies.
On the other hand, some teens without Aspergers can be very open to making friends quickly. If someone wants to be your buddy quickly, and then asks you to do something for them (e.g., give them money, do something crazy, hurt someone), be aware that true buddies don’t do that! True friends help you to feel good about yourself and protect you from doing things that are not in your best interest, or in the best interest of others.
Teens with Aspergers tend to be very loyal to their friends. However, their loyalty can be abused by those with various social weaknesses (e.g., greed, jealousy, low self-esteem). It is always a good idea to pay attention to your “gut.” If you feel uncomfortable about something, even if you can’t identify what it is, it is best to seek advice from someone you do trust who understands how some people can take advantage of others.
Many Aspergers teens have particularly strong interests in certain areas. Unfortunately, very few people around them may share that interest. This makes it harder for the Aspergers teen to find friends. Therefore, look for friends at clubs where other teens with your special interest are likely to gather. Some Aspergers teens recognize that having a lot of buddies is not that important to them. Other Aspergers teens blame themselves or think badly about themselves if they don’t have friends or make friends easily.
Making friends has less to do with whether people like you than it does with whether you have interests or experiences that are similar to theirs AND whether you are also willing to share in the interests they have that are different from your own. It is easy to lose potential friends if you share more than what the other person wants to receive, or don’t give the other person equal time to share their interests with you. True buddies will stick up for each other in front of others, answer questions honestly, help each other when there is a need, and will enjoy just spending time together. Most people only have a few friends that meet this definition of a close buddy. These are the best buddies to have and to seek.
Another reason that Aspergers teens may have a more difficult time making friends is because their sensory processing and body movements are different from those without Aspergers. Friendly pats on the back and reaching out to touch your arm are common ways for non-Aspergers people to “connect” with each other through the sense of touch. If touch is perceived as uncomfortable or even threatening, your reaction to their well-intentioned effort to relate to you is not going to be easily understood. This is where Aspergers teens need to self-advocate and to let others know what makes us uncomfortable. Most people without Aspergers ARE willing to respect these differences, IF they know about them.
For those who struggle with verbal communication, a card that explains what you need can be carried in your wallet or purse and shared with others as you choose. The “down side” is, because it is hard for people without Aspergers to relate to these differences in perception, it may limit how many potential friends will be willing to work that hard to become a close buddy. Aspergers teens often find it easier to socialize and become buddies with other “Aspies” simply because they understand each other’s way of thinking and perceiving.
“Missed” communication can also make it harder for Aspergers teens to make and keep friends. Their more limited body movements can be misread by others who regularly look for “body language” cues when communicating. Aspergers teens also tend to find it difficult to attend to all the body language cues that others give. Thus, they may misread the “intended” messages if all they are paying attention to are the words others use.
Understanding the social rules that non-Aspergers people follow can also help in making and keeping friends. Some typical social rules that Aspergers teens tend to break (that others find offensive, but won’t tell you about to avoid hurting your feelings) are:
- appearing desperate or too eager to establish a close relationship with someone you don’t know really well (which may be a dangerous thing for you because this is the type of behavior that people who will abuse you look for)
- asking others about their current relationships (unless they bring it up first)
- dressing too fancy or too casually for the situation (e.g., wearing too much make-up or seductive clothes to work or a picnic, wearing jeans to a job interview, etc.)
- poor grooming habits (e.g., not brushing your teeth, not bathing or washing your hair, not wearing clean clothes, not wearing deodorant, etc.)
- telling people things about yourself that are considered “private” (e.g., that you don’t have any friends, you’ve never had sex, etc.)
Even though your sensory processing differences may be the reason for your grooming habits or clothes choices, unless you take the time to explain these differences to others, they will judge you based on your appearance. That doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to compromise (e.g., adding a jacket to dress up blue jeans). Clothes that are clean and unwrinkled are more important than being “in fashion.” You can accomplish a “snug-fit” that some Aspies seem to prefer by wearing biking shorts or a wet suit under your clothes rather than overly tight fitting clothes that might be viewed as “suggestive.”
The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook