Is there a kid in your classroom who is always alone? Are they autistic? Do you care if you get made fun of because you are friends with this guy or girl? One word: Don’t. Autistic people are just that: people. Some may not talk. Some may. Some are blessed with a great memory or an artistic mind, and many amazing things. If you are too scared to be made fun of, don’t read this article. These steps are only for the people who care.
1 Introduce yourself the same way you would to anyone else. Don’t feel shy about sharing information about yourself—it helps the autistic person get to know you, and feel more comfortable around you. Talk about yourself, and ask them about themselves.
2 Hang out with them. Bonding is a great way to get along with each other! Interacting with other people can be challenging for autistic people, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t enjoy it. Most often you may need to be the one to make first contact and initiate any discussion, since autistic people may struggle with initiating social interaction.
3 Ask them about their needs. For example, some autistic people are sensitive to sound, so don’t be surprised if your new friend can’t handle loud music or crowded places. In many cases you can work around these limitations, such as meeting up in quieter areas and turning the volume down a little on your music. Usually the autistic person knows exactly what (s)he can and can’t handle.
- Read their body language, and ask how they’re doing. “Are the flickering lights bothering you? Would you like to go outside?”
- Pay attention to their stimming. Stimming can express a range of emotions—joy, excitement, disgust, or overwhelm. If you notice them stimming with an unpleasant expression, that means that something is probably wrong.
4 Help them with their disabilities. While some very young autistic children don’t understand why they are different, most autistic people are well aware of their differences, and they take it in their stride so they can live a happy and comfortable life.
5 Help them with problems. Autistic people may suffer from a number of things: comorbid conditions (e.g. anxiety, depression, epilepsy), rude or abusive therapists, or parents who treat them like a project instead of a human being. Offering a supportive ear is an incredible gift to them.
- If their therapy is trying to make them normal, or they are scared/unhappy about going, then it’s probably harmful. Tell an adult who will take it seriously. Your friend might be in danger.
- Due to the prevalence of compliance therapies (which emphasize obedience above all else), autistic people are at higher risk for abuse. Get help right away if you suspect that someone is hurting your friend.
- Gift them a Service dog. It encourages social interaction.
6 Compliment them. Find little things that they are good at and notice them. They will have more confidence with things that they do, and that will help them stand up for themselves in the future.
7 Recognize the validity of their interests. Autistic people often have passionate and idiosyncratic interests. While some people may like things such as sports, movies, TV, etc. other people, including some autistic people might be interested in things such as frogs, clocks, writing novels, washing machines, social justice, robots, sarcasm, or pet rocks. Autistic people tend to be especially passionate and knowledgeable about their subjects of interest. Try not to generalize about what any autistic person may like or dislike. Rainman was an entertaining movie, not an educational documentary.
8 Research. The internet is full of autistic bloggers with tips on how to be a good friend to autistic people. Autistic people may feel mistrustful or even afraid of you if you praise Autism Speaks or talk about how terrible it is to be autistic.
- Musings of an Aspie, Emma’s Hope Book, and Real Social Skills are a few well-known blogs.
- Check out autism-friendly organizations. Look for groups that include autistic people in their highest levels of leadership, emphasize quality of life over a eugenic cure, and advocate for acceptance. Avoid fear mongering or dangerous anti-vaccination rhetoric.
9 Show them compassion and acceptance. Many autistic people have been treated like burdens and problems by their family because of their autism. Showing that you love the person for who they are, including their autism, means the world to them. Kind words, respect, gifts, and support will mean a lot to an autistic person.