Where Can Adults With Autism or Asperger’s Find Friends?
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 Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome Support Groups
The first line of defense, so to speak, for adults wanting to make friends should be autism or Asperger’s syndrome 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 autism population just like in the rest of the world. You won’t automatically get along with every person with autism 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 autism/Asperger’s syndrome–some can put you in touch with others with Asperger’s syndrome.
Find a Group in Your City
Many cities have their own autism and Asperger’s syndrom 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, www.aspergersyndrome.org, 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 www.grasp.org groups, ASAN at www.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. www.grasp.org/
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 www.autisticadvocacy.org 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 AANEwww.aane.org. 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 Autism/Asperger’s Syndrome Find Friends?
It’s useful to meet other adults with Asperger’s syndrome, 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
Are You Tired of Being Single?
I was in my mid to late twenties.
Friday nights were the worst. I hated finishing work and going home to an empty apartment.
It was worse when my good friends from college started getting married.
I was always a groomsman, but never a groom.
I was lonely and tired of being single.
Please raise your hand if you’re tired of being single. You’re tired of living alone, killing any sense of belonging you may have felt. It’s daunting enough to interact with people–never mind trying to build afriendship, and then a dating relationship.
Well, there’s good news. Friendship and dating does not have to be that daunting. With the right resources and tools at your disposal, you can learn to deal with the root causes of loneliness and set yourself up for meaningful connection.
Read the rest of this article, and I will walk you through friendship tips that can set you up for future dating and relationship success.
Action Step–Read the rest of her article to figure out which of the eight attributes you use to label yourself incomplete. Stop seeing yourself as incomplete. Read the rest of the article to figure out how.
R - Recognize the feelings of loneliness. Instead of judging your loneliness (for example, I've often said to myself, though not consciously, "I feel so alone, there's no one out there who truly understands me, I'm tired of feeling this way."), accept and welcome the feelings with compassion.
A - Accept the feelings. Acknowlege the feelings with self-compassion, rather than with self-criticism. (For example, I have criticized myself in the past for feeling lonely, "I shouldn't feel this way, or 'this is too painful to feel').
I - Investigate. Can you put an emotional label on the sensations that you're feeling? Is there a particular situation or situations that triggered the loneliness? The HALT acronym from recovery literature can help you better understand when feelings of loneliness can be amplified - Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired.
N - Not self. Give yourself to feel the feeling, but don't let that feeling define who you are. Realize that loneliness is one part of who you are, but that there is so much else going on in your existence.
Action Step: Next time you're feeling stressed, anxious, or lonely, practice RAIN. Practice at least once a day to develop greater self awareness and well being.
Not interested in any of these three hobbies? Use Meetup to find groups of people doing activities that you're interested in.
Action Step: Choose one of the three hobbies that teach social skills and set a time and date on your calendar as a deadline for getting involved. Or resolve to join a meetup group for an activity your interested in.
Action Step: Here's an exercise. Write down a couple paragraphs, or more, about characteristics you'd desire in an ideal mate.
Now read that list.
This list is your personal growth plan.
How can you become the type of person you want to meet? For example, if you want to be with someone fun, smart, and compassionate. Are you fun, smart, and compassionate? If not, look for ways to become more this way.
I personally needed to work through some hurts and hangups, including limiting core beliefs about myself, before I was ready to be in a relationship with the woman who is now my wife. I personally sought counseling and participated in men's growth groups at my church to heal those hurts and hangups. As I worked through a lot of my personal pain, I became more able to accept myself and to give and receive love.
You can do the same.
6. Improve Your Social Skills
Dan Wendler, an Asperger young man, struggled with loneliness growing up.
When he learned about Asperger syndrome, he embarked on a disciplined study of conversation, body language, and communication.
I've always felt connected when volunteering. Whether serving soup in a homeless shelter, helping out with children's services at my church, or running in a marathon to help raise money for clean water for families in Africa, I've felt connected to the people I volunteer with, and I feel connected to the needs of the world.
If you don't already volunteer, consider volunteering.
Action Step: Go to VolunteerMatch and enter a cause you're interested in. Get started today.
Next Time You're Feeling Tired of Being Single...
Print out this article, read the above eight suggestions, choose one, and follow the action step.
What other loneliness reducing tips can you share for those who are tired of being single? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.