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How do you build relationships with autism?

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How do you build relationships with autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) describes a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. While autism impacts everyone differently, relationships are often especially difficult for those on the spectrum.

However, with understanding and effort on both sides, it is very possible to build meaningful relationships. This article will explore how neurotypical individuals can effectively connect with someone who has autism.

Understanding autism communication differences

One of the core hallmarks of autism is difficulty with social communication. Those on the spectrum often interpret social cues and body language differently than neurotypicals.

They may struggle to understand implied or subtle meanings in what others say. Direct, literal communication without implied meanings is easiest. Some specific areas of communication difference in autism include:

Conversational flow – Structured, one-topic conversations are easiest. Allow extra time for responses and avoid complex, multi-party interactions which can be overwhelming.

Eye contact – Direct eye contact can cause sensory overload for some. Don’t take avoidance of eye contact personally. Let the individual maintain contact at their own comfort level.

Facial expressions and tone of voice – Subtle social cues like sarcasm, joking or disingenuous expressions are often misinterpreted. Be abundantly clear and direct in both words and delivery.

Personal space – Respect needs for additional physical distance which varies per individual. Be aware of body language and space boundaries.

Stimming – Repetitive motoric behaviors like rocking, hand flapping etc provide sensory feedback to help regulate emotions. Tolerate rather than suppress stimming.

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Understanding these differences goes a long way in building trust and successful interactions with someone on the spectrum. Direct, patient communication is key.

Shared interests as a foundation

Finding common interests or special areas of focus is an excellent way to form connections with someone who has autism. These individuals often develop intense, focused interests in narrow topics. Aligning on shared enthusiasms provides a comfortable starting point less dependent on social-communication nuance.

When first interacting, inquire gently about interests through open-ended questions. Discuss similarities respectfully without judgment.

Over time, share related books, videos or activities to maintain engagement on a comfortable topic. Mutual enthusiasms help bypass social barriers and build understanding through a joint passionate focus.

Establish clear structure and routines

Autistic individuals benefit tremendously from transparent structure and predictable routines. New social situations without context can induce high levels of anxiety or uncertainty. When planning interactions:

  • Set explicit expectations about time, place, activities and purpose of meeting. Provide any relevant details in writing if helpful.
  • Maintain consistent schedules with advance notice of changes to support preparation.
  • Use calendars, checklists or visual schedules for complex multi-step activities or events.
  • Clearly communicate transitions between topics or parts of an interaction.
  • Suggest regular friendly meetups focused on shared interests to support routine.

Established predictability eases the mental and emotional effort of decoding ambiguous interactions for those on the spectrum. Structure and routine pave the path for greater comfort and relationship growth over time.

Understand sensory challenges

Another core autism trait stems from atypical sensory processing. Everyday sights, sounds, tastes, smells, touch or movement may cause overload, distraction or intense discomfort. Unpredictable sensory stimuli greatly impede relationship ability.

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Learning about and accommodating individual sensitivities is key:

  • Determine sensory preferences through patient discussion – what is calming vs disturbing?
  • Choose interaction locations and activities carefully based on known sensitivities. Outdoor noisy areas may be overwhelming.
  • Provide advance warning for unexpected sensory events like loud noises or strong scents.
  • Respect needs to limit or avoid overwhelming sensations like busy public spaces.
  • Ask how you can help if overload occurs despite best efforts. Remove from source if possible.

With compassion and creativity, most environments and activities can become more sensory-friendly to support successful shared experiences. Focus on individual needs and make any required adjustments.

Express positivity and acceptance

Most importantly, convey unconditional care, respect and acceptance through consistent language and actions. Due to social difficulty, those with autism can struggle with self-esteem and anxiety around relationships. A supportive bond requires expressing:

  • Appreciation for efforts at communication and shared time together.
  • Reassurance that differences are not negative – autism is just another way of being.
  • Validation when sensory overload or other challenges occur without judgment.
  • Trust through following through on commitments and being reliable.
  • Care through asking about well-being and actively listening without expectation.

With patience and understanding over time, these expressions help develop the psychological safety and self-trust necessary for deeper rapport. Affirming the whole person helps those on the spectrum fully engage in relationships.

Maintain realistic expectations

Building strong connections with autism requires effort, adjustment and realistic expectations on both sides. Support the unique needs and abilities of your friend on their own terms:

  • Relationships may progress slower or differ in expression of closeness compared to neurotypical patterns.
  • Meltdowns, shutdowns or withdrawal may occasionally occur despite best efforts due to intensity of environments or emotions.
  • Direct communication about feelings may be lacking without additional self-advocacy training. Learn other signs of care like shared special interests.
  • Overstimulation or change can cause temporary disengagement that doesn’t reflect the value of the relationship.
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With compassionate patience and consistency over the long term, meaningful relationshipsabsolutely can thrive between autistic and neurotypical individuals alike. Understand each other as whole people rather than any one trait or label.

Conclusion

With empathy, creativity and effort navigating neurodiversity, it is very possible to cultivate caring connections between autistic people and their neurotypical friends or partners. The keys are developing a mutual understanding, establishing stability and structure, thoughtfully managing sensory challenges, conveying unconditional support and maintaining realistic expectations along the journey.

By embracing diverse minds and focusing on shared humanity beyond superficial differences, all people have the capacity for empathy, compassion and relationships. With openness to learning each other’s unique ways of being, autism need not impair ability to deeply care for and be cared for by another. Overall communication, trust and respect form the bedrock of any healthy bond across diverse minds alike.

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