If you have Aspergers, these tips can help to make it easier to make friends. We also recommend that you read our general tips in our main guide How to make friends.
This article will give you some tips on how to work past the challenges that come with AS (Asperger’s Syndrome) and create fulfilling friendships.
A common challenge for people with AS is reading social cues (like body language) and emotional expressions. This can make it difficult to understand how someone is feeling, or what they are thinking, unless they explicitly tell you. So much of human communication is non-verbal and based on the assumption that others can easily tell what we mean or what we want.
Tests like this one on emotional intelligence can help you practice which facial expressions tend to reflect which emotions. Besides these demonstrations, other online resources like this and this can also help you expand your ability to read emotions and social cues. Some informal resources should be taken with a grain of salt if they don’t come from a medical expert, but content from other people with AS may still be helpful because of the wisdom of personal experience.
Once you know what expressions or actions are linked with what emotions, you can test and practice this ability with family members (or other people you trust, like a counselor or therapist). This can reinforce what you’ve learned, and build your confidence when it comes to noticing and understanding emotional cues.
Since non-verbal communication habits can vary from person to person, try to practice with different people, so you can get accustomed to the different ways that people show emotions.
It may seem like neurotypical people are just born with certain social skills, but dealing with people is a learned skill like any other. By building and practicing the art of conversation, you can get better at it over time. Important aspects of a pleasant conversation that some people AS struggle with are keeping an appropriate distance, showing an interest in others, allowing others to speak, practicing active listening, and making eye contact.
Once you have identified the areas you need to work on, decide on behaviors you’ll adopt to address these issues. These may include keeping an arm-length distance from the person you’re speaking to, making sure to ask questions about them and their interests, or listening closely and reacting to their responses. By committing a handful of these practices to your memory, you can easily draw on them whenever you interact with other people. Ideally, this approach will become second-nature to you over time, and you’ll start doing it without even giving it too much thought.
Here’s practical advice on how to start a conversation.
Some people with AS find that they have a very short list of things they are genuinely interested in. Although there’s nothing wrong with liking what you like, conversations tend to improve when you know enough about various subjects. This also makes it more likely that you will know enough to engage with potential friends about their interests.
Start by getting familiar with topics that are considered mainstream. Things like sports, current events (e.g. world news), and pop culture (e.g. music, movies) come especially handy because they are small talk staples. Pay attention to your surroundings and learn about the dominant interests in your social space. For example, if you’re in a die-hard football town, or on a college campus, learn a little about your school or city’s team. If a highly anticipated event (e.g. concert, festival, etc.) is coming to your neighborhood, that usually makes for a great casual conversation starter. Watching the news, listening to radio morning shows, and reading articles online will help you keep tabs on what’s happening in the world and what people are talking about.
Clearly, a key part of making friends is improving the quality of your conversation. Doing this helps you interact with people for long enough to get to the point where you can build a friendship. One way to make sure you can sustain a conversation is to keep up with language trends, like slang, sarcasm, and different types of humor.
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Even if you don’t feel comfortable using it yourself, understanding slang can be particularly helpful for young people and young adults with AS. Don’t feel embarrassed about googling what certain words or phrases mean. Remember, the people who use them didn’t know what they meant when they first heard them either. This way, you avoid any awkwardness or confusion that may come from not knowing.
Some researchers have found that people with AS find it easier to engage with people who are a lot older or younger than themselves. While the average person is understandably drawn to people in the same life stage, you may have more success if you shift your focus. Of course, these new relationships should still be within the boundaries of propriety. For this reason, it is sometimes easier for young adults with AS to make friends with other adults, as opposed to teens or children.
People in different age groups tend to keep different routines, so you should schedule your day accordingly. If you’re looking for an older crowd, for instance, you may want to go to the gym at midday, instead of after 5 pm. Beyond this, lots of social events clearly tailor to a crowd within a certain age range. Make this work for you by placing yourself in spaces that expose you to the demographic you get along with best. Meetup is a good place to start.
People with a strong family network can easily take that safety net for granted. After all, no matter how great it is to have a family that loves you, it’s still not quite the same as having friends that like you. These are distinct but important kinds of social relationships.
Thankfully, you can rely on one to help you build the other. Relying on your family to be your emotional support system can help you limit things like tantrums, outbursts, and social withdrawal. In other words, your family can help you deal with certain emotional burdens, so you can be at your best when you are out in the world. Identify a family member to check in with when you feel sad or overwhelmed. Let them know how to support you in ways that are helpful to you. Make a habit of dealing with your emotions as they come up, so they don’t spill over into the friendships that you are trying to build.
Don’t stop the effort once you have made your first friend. If a neurotypical person feels like your only connection to the rest of the world, that sense of pressure can be frustrating. This can put a strain on the relationship over time.
To avoid this situation, keep actively using the techniques that worked the first time around to expand your friendship circle. If you don’t want to start over from scratch, you can try to leverage the connection you already have to make other connections. Since the friend you already have knows and understands you, they may be a great judge of character when it comes to finding other people who can do the same.
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Having a mutual friend has the dual benefit of being a great way to vet new people, and an easy way to break the ice. Spending time in a group can help you build confidence and get comfortable over time. It also eliminates the pressure of immediately spending one-on-one time with somebody new until you two have built an independent relationship.
Just like we do, friendships evolve. They go through building stages, maintenance, rebuilding, and the work is never quite done. Once you’ve made an initial connection with someone, you can safeguard the relationship by being upfront about areas where you struggle. Of course, you should only reveal as much as you are comfortable with. The point here is not to bare your soul for no reason, it’s to share information that can help the other person understand you. This can help prevent unnecessary fights, taking offence, or miscommunication.
Many people with AS struggle with expressing their feelings and concerns, but there are indirect ways to make sure that your new friend has the necessary and basic information. Consider finding and sharing an article designed to give people a quick introduction to AS. If you’re at a stage where you’re developing a deeper connection, you can look for longer, more detailed articles that specifically apply to your own experiences. Forward these via email or send your friend a few links. Let them know that these are resources they can turn to when they feel frustrated by something that happened between you, or simply want to understand you better.
Some with AS have friends but feel like they tire after a while, and others have always been lonely.
If you don’t have any friends, we share some recommendations in our guide Having Aspergers and no friends. We also have a big general guide called I have no friends where we look at many different underlying reasons for being lonely, and share tips for what to do about it.
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