I find it excruciatingly difficult to make friends because I’m extremely shy and never really know what to say to people. I find it easier to communicate online because I have more time to process information and don’t have to worry about reading people’s body language – the focus is solely on the words being said. I often feel disconnected from others. It can be hard to find people who are on the same wavelength and who genuinely understand me and accept me for who I am.
Why Might We Find Socialising And Making Friends Hard?
- Socialising can be exhausting. People with autism have lower social energy tanks, so if any extra social pressure is added, it can easily cause them to become extremely fatigued.
- Low self-esteem can cause people to withdraw from social situations because they may lack the confidence and social skills to participate.
- It can be overwhelming in social situations. In particular settings, such as nightclubs, pubs, or even secondary school, it can be difficult to focus on the socialising aspect because there is so much else going on. Sensory difficulties can overtake and distort our ability to clearly communicate.
- There are high expectations of social norms and friendship. We often compare our friendships to the ones of others, even though we may be living totally different lives!
- Mastering body language can be tricky, as we may not always pick up the subtle clues people are trying to give us. Being ‘social detectives’ can be hard work!
- Conversations, even on a one-to-one basis, can be challenging.
Why We May Struggle To Have Conversations
Conversation Starters and Topics
People with autism may find conversation difficult for numerous reasons. But, with practise, it will hopefully get easier! Some conversation starters include:
- What are you doing over the weekend?
- What do you like doing in your spare time?
- Have you heard about … on the news?
Some conversation topics include:
Top Tips For Conversation:
- Keep updated with the news and current affairs, so you have more to talk about.
- Watch people have conversations (either in person, TV or films or YouTube clips)
- Practice talking in front of a mirror.
- Create flashcards or visuals of things you want to say. Think about what you already know about the person and what you’d like to find out about them. Use what they’ve already told you about themselves to find new questions or comments.
- Be interested!
- Create a mental brainstorm of ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘when’, ‘where’ and ‘how’ questions.
- Ask open-ended questions, requiring a longer answer.
- Ask questions or comment on your surroundings, depending on where you are at that particular moment. Have a discussion about what you can see and hear.
- Try to expand your answers (avoid ‘yes’ or ‘no’ responses as these can sometimes lead to awkward silences!)
- Remember, it’s okay to have a pause in the conversation. Comfortable silences are normal.
- Relax. The more you worry about what to say, the less likely you’ll be to say anything!
- If you want to, explain to the person you’re talking to that you find conversation hard!
Top Tips For Making Friends:
- Be friendly!
- Have confidence in yourself and your abilities (people like positivity!)
- Be interesting!
- Smile and say hello!
- Try and make conversation.
- Use social media to talk to people if you struggle talking face-to-face.
- Join a social group or special interest club. The National Autistic Society runs local social groups.
- Find common ground – friendships are often formed through common interests.
- Compromise. Do things your friend likes to do, as well as what you’re interested in.
Top Tips For Socialising:
- Prepare yourself – know the plans (what you’ll be doing and when you’ll start & finish)
- Socialise for short periods, then have a break to ‘recharge your batteries.’
What's 'Social Thinking' All About?
Social Thinking is a concept developed by Michelle Garcia Winner. This concept introduces the idea of expected and unexpected behaviours and teaches that our thoughts about people affect our feelings about them. Social Detectives (people who have good social skills) use their eyes, ears and brain to make smart guesses about others (work out what they’re thinking and feeling.)
An example: When I was at school, I was so anxious that I was unable to smile or speak to anyone. The fact that I looked annoyed/upset probably made my peers feel uncomfortable, which is why they avoided me (I was unintentionally displaying unexpected behaviour, without thinking about how I was making others feel.)