In this blog I will talk about what people on the autistic spectrum should do when it comes to opening up about their autism with their friends. Recently, I have been trying to open up more and educate my friends on the autistic spectrum. This is important for me as it will give my friends a better understanding of the challenges I can face. It is not always easy to talk about the autistic spectrum to others, and I will discuss this more in this blog post.
Note that although I refer to friends in this blog post, most of what I mention is equally applicable for when you talk about the autistic spectrum to family, work colleagues or anyone else.
Be honest on your experiences and challenges
When it comes to talking about the autistic spectrum to your friends, you should aim to be honest about your experiences and challenges as much as possible. This is because being honest will help your friends understand the realities of the autistic spectrum and how certain things can be particularly challenging. You can also be honest about the strengths and talents you have as a result of being on the spectrum. From my own personal experience, although being honest was nerve wracking due to it being a personal topic, I found that my friends were understanding and wanted to support in any way they could. I do appreciate it can be hard to be honest about the challenges you face due to being on the autistic spectrum, and it is OK if it takes time for you to be comfortable in opening up about it.
If you are a friend to someone on the autistic spectrum, you should be open minded and be a good listener if your friend is being honest about their experiences and challenges that they face. Remember that if you come across as judgemental, then it is likely that they won’t open up to you about their autism again.
Appreciate that it might take time for your friend to understand if they don’t know anyone else on the autistic spectrum
From my own personal experience, the thing that was the hardest when opening up to friends was knowing that the majority of them didn’t know anyone else on the autistic spectrum. This meant that the autistic spectrum was a new topic for them, and they hadn’t heard of terms such as autism masking and autistic burnout. Therefore, I had to explain the autistic spectrum and the challenges I face due to it in detail. If you are on the autistic spectrum, I know that it can be daunting and difficult to try and open up about your experiences of being on the autistic spectrum to friends who know very little about the topic, and it can be frustrating having to explain things in detail time and time again. However, one thing I would say is that good friends will try their best to understand over time even if they can’t straight away, and you should give them the time to do so.
If you are a friend to someone on the autistic spectrum and you don’t know anyone else on the autistic spectrum, then you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t fully understand the autistic spectrum and the challenges and experiences your friend have faced straight away. Every new topic takes time to understand, and hence you should give yourself the time to understand the autistic spectrum by doing your own research and asking questions to your friend.
You don’t have to open up about everything
Even though I mentioned in my first point that you should be honest when it comes to opening up about your experiences and challenges, that doesn’t mean that you have to open up about everything. The autistic spectrum can be a very personal topic for people, and therefore it is perfectly OK if there are some aspects of it that you would rather keep private. Moreover, there might be certain aspects of your autism that you feel more comfortable talking about with some friends, and other aspects that you feel more comfortable talking about with other friends. It is important to note that there wouldn’t be any external pressure from your friends to open up about things that you aren’t comfortable about, and you certainly shouldn’t put yourself under any pressure to open up about everything.
Let your friends know what they can do to support
Out of the friends that I have opened up to about my autism, the majority of them did ask if there was anything they could do to support. It was clear to me that most of them asked that with the genuine intention to support rather than for the sake of saying it. It’s important to remember that friends genuinely want to be a good friend to you. Therefore, by letting them know what they can do to support you, not only does it help you, it also helps them with their intention of being a good friend to you. An example of what friends can do to support is to give you space when you feel overstimulated or if your anxiety levels are high. Note that friends have their own busy lives as well, and therefore you shouldn’t place unrealistic demands when it comes to them supporting you. For example, you can’t expect a friend to call you every day if they are busy and stressed.
If you are a friend to someone on the autistic spectrum and they tell you ways in which you could support them, you should try and follow through on them if possible. However, it is also important not to make promises you can’t keep, and you shouldn’t be afraid to tell your friend if you don’t think you can do everything that they asked for, or if something they asked for is unrealistic.