What can I do to help my autistic peers?

     by Inovar Autismo

Do you have autistic peers/friends and want to better understand how you can improve your relationship? It is important, first of all, to realize that all autistic people are different and that they can often have more or less difficulties to make and maintain friendships. Thus, some of this information may be valid for some autistic people, and not so much for others. It is important, before thinking of strategies to help, to know and respect the individual characteristics of each one. 

  • Autistic people may not know what to say in certain situations. Although there is a desire to start a dialogue, they may not know exactly where to start. In addition to communication and interaction difficulties, other factors can interfere with starting a conversation. If this happens, you can try to help by training with the person some examples of conversation topics, or be the one to start the moment of interaction, by asking a question, for example. It is important to always respect the time and space of each one, showing openness and patience.
  • Many people on the autism spectrum may have difficulty understanding body language, facial expressions, and gestures. Some social signs that demonstrate friendship or even a romantic interest may be too subtle or may go unnoticed. Neurotypical people are used to showing interest through smiles, looks, touch… The autistic person may be seen as a cold person or uninterested in developing relationships, but in fact, they may not express these signs because they are not able to interpret them so easily. If you have doubts about any interpretation or gesture, ask the person directly in order to clarify the communication.
  • Participating in activities with friends can be quite challenging or unpleasant for autistic people, especially if it involves being in places with many people and with many sensory stimuli. Do not pressure the person to do something that they do not feel comfortable doing, always respecting their decisions. You can always try to find activities or games in which all your friends can participate in order to be as inclusive as possible.
  • Situations of “stimming” may arise. Stimming, which can be characterized by the emergence of various repetitive behaviors (shaking hands, walking on tiptoes, smelling an object), can be a way to reduce anxiety, maintain body awareness, help with concentration, or deal with overwhelming sensations or emotions. If this happens in front of you, don’t judge the person and don’t force them to stop. This behavior arises for a reason and when you try to stop it, it can trigger anxiety and frustration, and the person may not feel accepted and respected.

Strategies that can be used to help our partners:

  • Use simple, direct sentences when talking to them.
  • Use visual aids to help them understand better.
  • Repeat information if they didn’t understand.
  • Explain things in stages, don’t give them all the information at once.

It is important:

  • That we are patient.
  • That we respect our partners: their needs and their way of doing things.
  • To be creative.
  • To understand that diversity exists.
  • To be able to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes.
  • To get to know our partner beyond the fact that he/she is autistic.
  • To invest in communication.

We need to avoid:

  • Reinforcing behavior that is not appropriate.
  • Allowing other peers to laugh at what they do or say.
  • Allowing our autistic peers to feel overly stressed.

Other useful questions on Peer Island