Adolescence is a time of change in the nature of friendships, with many typically developing teenagers preferring peer group acceptance to that of their parents. In many instances, there is a greater degree of self-disclosure between teenagers and a desire to be accepted and respected by peers. Attwood (2013) tells us that unfortunately, many teenagers with autism feel that they are frequently rejected, and even humiliated and ridiculed by their peers. Some will experience an intense loneliness and have great difficulty integrating with others within their social circle. This can ultimately impact on the student’s self-esteem and emotional wellbeing.
Individuals with autism often find social situations challenging. This can be for many reasons such as:
- The environment may have too much or too little sensory stimuli e.g. too noisy, not enough space, too many distractions, not enough light.
- They may find social interactions difficult e.g. understanding facial expressions, sarcasm, metaphors, unspoken social rules, slang language.
- It may take the teenager an extended period of time to process and respond to what is being said
- They may feel different from their peers
- They may have little or no experience in forming friendships or relationships. It is difficult to develop an intimate relationship if you have never had a friend
- Difficulty expressing themselves and understanding others point of view
However, this does not mean that teenagers with autism are not interested in establishing relationships.
Understanding relationships begins with educating the teenager with autism about their self-concept and developing friendship skills. (Ten things I wish everyone new)
Self-concept is the individual’s belief about him or herself, including the person’s attributes (qualities, characteristics) and who and what the self is. Strategies, which may help a teenager with autism understand themselves better include:
- Mapping out (this can be done visually using pictures with or without text, or using a video)
- Strengths – what things are they good at
- What they like or dislike to do
- What they are interested in
- What they want to do in the future
- What are their best and worst habits