How Do Autistic People Make Friends?

A group of friends hanging out on a mountain top at sunset with text that reads, "How do autistic people make friends?"

The topic of making friends can be very difficult for autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people because it can bring up hurtful memories and painful feelings, and I want to acknowledge that before I proceed.

Some autistic people don’t struggle with making and maintaining friendships, but many do, so this post is for those who do and loved ones who want to be supportive.

Here’s my story: I’m actually pretty good at making friends, I’m just lousy at keeping them.

I’m just not good at the “maintenance” part of things. Also, I used to be really bad at making friends because I didn’t know how to do it.

Somebody made a comment on one of my posts talking about how they “walked up to people to try to make friends, but others would quickly walk away”. It hit me like a punch to the gut that this used to be my exact approach, as well!

I had no idea what to do, so I would just walk up to someone and start talking to them. Now I realize this was very odd behavior to non-autistics, and I don’t do it anymore, but you could have knocked me over with a feather when I found out that this wasn’t what you should do! (Meaning, I was incredibly shocked.)

Even on social media, it’s not considered appropriate behavior to just private message someone you’d like to get to know better, and I didn’t know that for years!

I wish I could tell you how I eventually figured this stuff out. I think it was stuff I just stumbled upon or people were kind enough to point out.

So, if what I was doing then didn’t work, what DID I learn to do?

Common interests. I went to a website called MeetUp, and I joined a couple of LGBTQ groups and went to events when they were in my area.

I didn’t just walk up to people. I just smiled if someone looked at me a few times and said “Hi.” I was careful not to infodump and just listen for the most part until I got to know them better.

(Article continues below.)

The best way to improve communication with your autistic loved one is to understand how your autistic loved one’s mind works! Intentions, motivations, and personal expressions (facial expressions or lack thereof, body language, etc.), are often quite different in autistic people than they are in neurotypical people.

Experience a better understanding of your autistic loved one by reading books about life from an autistic perspective as well as stories that feature autistic characters. You’ll have so many “Ah ha!” moments and start seeing your autistic loved one in a different light (and you’ll have a better understanding of their behaviors, which you may have been misinterpreting up until now).

Books I recommend for a better understanding of your autistic loved one:

I did it in this order:

1) MeetUp.

2) Joined a couple of groups.

3) Went to events.

4) Waited to be approached. (Yes, I did a lot of masking so as not to scare people off with my RAF — “Resting Autistic Face”).

5) Mostly listened and asked questions.

6) If the conversation went well and lasted for a while, or we kept talking throughout the event, I would casually ask, “Hey, do you have Facebook?”

7) Add person on Facebook (or whatever social media they gave me).

8) Like a few of their posts (as they post them, no “deep diving”, i.e. liking old posts or pictures from years ago because it makes you look overeager and can scare a potential friend away).

9) Comment on a few posts, again, as they post them, if your comments are relevant to what they’re talking about. Quick comments, nothing long. No opposing opinions yet.

10) See them again at another event. Talk, catch up, etc. See if an actual friendship begins to develop over a few events (you’re just in the “auditioning” phase in the first 9 steps).

11) Proceed from there.

I could go on, and I will if people want me to. Also, I’m really not good at maintenance. I know how to intellectually, but I often don’t follow through because I forget and much prefer my own company, and maintaining a friendship absolutely exhausts me unless we really click and I feel I can be myself.

A word of caution if you’re going to use this formula as a guide: Don’t try to maintain a friendship where you can’t be yourself.

It’s fine to “audition” and follow a script for a while (even non-autistic people do this) but, it’s not healthy to have to mask and perform as an entirely different person all the time.

Also, some people may be completely against this approach because it involves masking. It’s just one option, after all, and, if it makes you uncomfortable, you certainly don’t have to follow it.

Ironically, although this approach has worked for me, I only succeeded in making acquaintances because of my inability to maintain.

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