Supporting a friend on the Autistic Spectrum – Advice from an Aspie!

I Throughout life, I’ve found it difficult to maintain a constant friendship group. I encountered the transition between different learning establishments (Primary-Secondary School, College to University) and have faced my *unfortunate* share of bullying along the way.

I wasn’t able to confide in my friends about who I really was. Ie: That I was Autistic, because I remained unaware up until the age of nineteen.

I have high-functioning Autism. Previously referred to as Aspergers Syndrome. This means that I may encounter different challenges to those further along the spectrum, but it should be noted that the issues I face are not trivial.

I believe that being aware of my Autism has transformed me, slowly but surely, into a different person. I have now gained the confidence to confide in my friends should I need a listening ear or the comfort of a warm embrace. And I no longer feel forced to change myself in a bid to “fit in” because I deserve acceptance within both myself and those around me.

I imagine that it’s not always easy to support a friend on the Autistic Spectrum, because we are all unique, we all have our personal struggles and areas that set us back massively. And, admittedly, it’s difficult for somebody else to gain control of unexpected meltdowns when I struggle to comprehend them myself the majority of the time!

I’ve now managed to settle with an incredible group of friends who I love wholeheartedly. I’m even managing to mingle more with new people. And it’s such a surreal feeling.

My friends continuously issue me with love, support and acceptance and are always my first point of call should I need advice.

1) Try to spot signs of a meltdown

I can’t speak for everybody on the spectrum. But I find that when I am nearing meltdown mode, I tend to go quieter than usual, my joints will become stiffer and I begin to feel lightheaded and as though I am not really there in the moment. It’s as though I mentally attempt to distance myself from overwhelming situations, which I consider to be a strength.

Prior to the start of a meltdown, I tend to run away. It’s my way of finding comfort in a safe place, also described as fight or flight – The body’s physiological reaction in response to a threatening stimuli.

If you begin to notice your friend behaving differently, ask them if they are okay, issue them with reassurance and guide them to a calm/safe place to help to reduce levels of anxiety. During situations like this, people may become mute, so also take careful consideration regarding the physical signs you recognise.

2) Offer a helping hand

Even to friends not on the spectrum, it’s important to help each other out, to be kind and to be understanding.

If you know that your friend struggles with asking for assistance in a supermarket (for example) ask on their behalf if it’s what they prefer, but ask them beforehand to avoid anybody feeling intimidated. It can be hugely challenging for those on the spectrum to speak to strangers, alongside overcoming the challenge of small talk (which often seems unnecessary and remotely awkward) So it’s always useful to be around a friend who can assist them with difficult tasks.

3) Give notice in advance

If you’re planning on meeting your friend and something unexpected has occurred, be sure to inform your friend as soon as possible. People on the spectrum commonly struggle with last minute adaptations as they have expected a certain activity to happen and have prepared themselves accordingly for it. Sudden changes in plans can be confusing and can often cause people to become agitated and exceedingly more anxious.

4) Be understanding

I mentioned previously that Aspies typically struggle with sudden changes in plans/arrangements. However, I’ve found that I often struggle to maintain plans because I cannot predict how I will be feeling on given days. Ie: The day to go shopping can arise and I’ll be too anxious to leave the house. Please try not to take offence by this, it isn’t that people don’t want to spent time with you, it’s that a mental issue has occurred and it’s super important to take extra care during our most sensitive days.

5) Be honest

People on the spectrum have high sensitivity levels, but we are also talented at detecting lies as we easily recognise changes in tone and behaviour. From a personal perspective, I find lying confusing and unnecessary.

6) Making arrangements

Personally, I like to know what I’ll be doing whilst having a rough idea of where I’ll be and who I’ll be with at certain times and on specific days. Anything other than what I have expected beforehand massively throws me off guard.

Again, this is all from a personal perspective and factors that I find helpful may be upsetting to others. Get to know your friends and their limits, ask them for ways in which you can be of assistance and think about the words you use as they can often be taken literally and to heart.

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