OK, we all know that adults with autism or Asperger’s syndrome have trouble making friends – and if you are an adult with Asperger’s, this is probably sounding pretty familiar by now! But let’s now talk about ways to solve all of the problems of building friendships.
Yes, it is hard to make friends if you are an adult with Asperger’s syndrome. Yes, it’s lonely. But there ARE things that can help. There are organizations that can help; and tools and strategies that can help. Let’s talk about some of them.
Local Asperger’s Support Groups
The first line of defense, so to speak, for adults wanting to make friends should be Asperger’s groups and organizations dedicated to such things. This is because Aspies will tend to get along better with other Aspies as a general rule. It is wonderful to meet other people who think the same way you do, act the same way you do, talk the same way, and just generally understand you. Now, there is diversity in the Aspie population just like in the rest of the world. You won’t automatically get along with every Aspie in the world, but you do have a much, much better chance. You can find someone who shares your interests, someone who wants to “be” and interact in the same way that you want to.
Many of these organizations run support groups for adults with Asperger’s; some can put you in touch with others with Asperger’s syndrome.
Find a Group in Your City
Many cities have their own Asperger’s groups and meetings. These are definitely worth finding. Washington, DC, for example has a very large group called “Asperger Adults of Greater Washington,” or AAGW. It has almost forty people come to meetings every month. Most groups are not nearly that big. They meet in one corner of a tea cafe once a month. At the beginning, they have social time for their members to talk with each other-then they sometimes have a speaker or a discussion topic, and more free form social time at the end.
Every group for Aspies is run differently. Some focus on just free time for conversation, some are all speakers, some discussion based, some are more therapy oriented. Some only have as few as 4 members; others, like AAGW, could have as many as forty.
The wonderful thing about these groups is people are usually very nonjudgmental. You can feel safe there, safe to be yourself. If you fidget a lot and can’t look anyone in the eyes, no one will care. If you talk about trains all day, they will understand. If you have too much anxiety to talk but just want to sit and listen, they will be glad to have you there. Whatever your level of functioning and way of being in the world, at an Aspie group you will be greeted sincerely. Most people are very friendly, although of course it depends on the person and group; and you will feel welcome. You will recognize yourself in others. You will feel less alone.
The OASIS website maintains a great list of local support groups in all fifty states. A lot of these are for parents but there are some for adults with Asperger’s syndrome too.
Also, try using Google to find local groups, or email a national Asperger’s email group to ask if anyone there knows of local groups (Examples are grasp.org groups, ASAN at autisticadvocacy.org, Autistic Daily living Yahoo group, etc.)
National Asperger’s Advocacy Groups
In addition to all the local groups, there are a few national or regional Asperger’s organizations that run support groups for adults with Asperger’s. These are all very useful groups to know about.
GRASP, or the Global and Regional Autistic Self Advocacy Network, runs support groups for adults in several different states but focuses on the New York City region. Their current list of support groups include locations in California, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York and more. There are several based in the New York City area.
ASAN, or the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, runs groups in several different states as well. These are run by people on the autism spectrum and are often focused more on political issues (such as advocating for rights for people on the spectrum, and how to work to reduce the number of negative messages about people with autism in the media, how to educate people about autism spectrum disorders, etc.).
ASAN’s website talks more about the goals of the organization. It was started by two young men in their 20s, both with Asperger’s. One was just starting college, one in grad school; both with a vision to create an organization for people with autism spectrum disorders; An organization run by people who had the same disorder in order to create a welcoming place of support and also to create an organization that would fight for the rights of people on the spectrum.
A third organization is the Asperger’s Association of New England, or AANE. They provide support groups in most of the six New England states. They are based in Boston, and have several groups in that area. They have social activity groups, where members go to various places together (bowling, out to dinner, to see a lecture), as well as support groups and social skills groups. A full listing of groups can be found at aane.org.
A great website to find support organizations and support groups which lists groups broken down by U.S. state is: aspergersyndrome.org
The listing of support organizations here is extensive. While these listings are not necessarily all oriented for adults, with a little work, you can likely find a support group that will meet your needs.
How Else Can Adults with Asperger’s Find Friends?
It’s useful to meet other adults with Asperger’s, but sometimes you just want to be able to make friends with the people around you. How can you accomplish that? How can you develop more friendships in your life?
Work on your social skills
One option is always to get counseling to help work on your social skills. A good counselor can tell you where you’re going wrong and work with you to help change the weak areas. They can identify those areas in which you need help, and model proper social skills. They can role model with you what to do and say in social situations. By working with a skilled therapist, you can be more aware of the way you come across, and gain more friends with your new, improved skills.
Seek out people you are compatible with!
But you still need a place to meet the right people. All the social skills in the world aren’t going to help you get along with just anyone. People have very different personalities, interests, and communication styles. You need to meet people who are compatible with you.
But how do I do that, you ask? Well, look around you. Decide what you have an interest in. If you like to read, join a book club. In the process of discussing the Great Gatsby, you just might stumble upon a kindred soul. Like to swim? Join a swimming club. Many Aspies make friends much better when they are DOING something with a person instead of just talking to them. They need something constructive to do while being with a person; that way the focus is on the activity instead of the conversation.
If you like history and World War II, join a historical preservation group. Maybe you can get involved in Civil War reenactments.
If you’re into sports at all, join a sports club; non-competitive sports are probably more likely to spur friendships than competitive, but you never know. If you like to sing, join a choir. If you like to write, find a writing group. The list is endless. The important thing is to match your skills and interests to a group of like-minded people. You might still have social skill issues, but you’ll have a common interest with these people and be much more likely to develop friendships. Just be patient and know that developing friendships takes time; it doesn’t happen overnight. Go slow and try not to rush things. Trying to rush into things will put pressure on the other person and make them much more likely to end the burgeoning friendship prematurely. It is hard to wait, yes, but worth it in the end.
Eight Places to Find Potential Friends
1. Intellectual interest groups
Book clubs, political discussion groups, moral and ethical discussion groups such as Socrates Cafe, MENSA are all good places to look.
2. Athletic Pursuits
Look into local groups for soccer, basketball, swimming, or any sport that you have an interest in.
3. Creative Activities
Arts and crafts, photography, painting, writing, and other creative arts; people meet to share work, discuss technique, or engage in said art during group time with others.
4. Religious Organizations
Churches and synagogues can be great places to meet others. Often they hold their own discussion groups, choirs and activities.
5. University Groups
If you have a college or university near you, they may hold special interest groups that are open to the public that you could join.
6. Science and Technology
Do you like computers? Science fiction? Medicine? Find like-minded people in a group dedicated to these topics.
7. Your Workplace
Sometimes you can find like-minded people in your workplace, or at least people to go out to a baseball game with. A lot of times this doesn’t happen, but it can occasionally.
8. Activity Groups
People might meet to play board games, chess, Scrabble, go hiking, or do any manner of activity together.
While it may be difficult for an adult with autism or Asperger’s syndrome to easily make friends, it is possible with a little thought and energy.