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How to Help a Teen With Asperger's Make and Keep Friends

Over 13 years focused on all things autism-related for my son who has Asperger's. He is greatly exceeding all professional predictions.

The Difference Between a Typical Teen and One With Asperger's

Typical adolescents go through many different changes and transitions in an attempt to discover who they are as individuals.

It’s common for a teen to have many different hairstyles, change music and movie interests, and especially embrace different social activities involving their peers.

Teenagers who have Asperger’s tend not to be concerned with changing their appearance or style. Quite the opposite is true for these kids actually. Change can be a huge source of anxiety. People with Asperger’s thrive on routine and predictability.

People with Asperger's generally have a few specific interests that they are consumed by, which don't change dramatically. These interests will include something like baseball statistics, snake varieties, computer programming, or US presidents. Their knowledge of the interest grows considerably due to the fact that they are always thinking about it and seeking more information.

This process doesn’t leave a lot of room for the typical self-exploration that many teens experience. This difference is one of many reasons that teens with Asperger’s have a hard time relating to the average teenager.

Boy with Asperger's and a friend playing different video games side by side

Boy with Asperger's and a friend playing different video games side by side

Why Teenagers With Asperger's May Have No Friends

Kids with Asperger’s have a very difficult time having a reciprocal conversation or interaction with people which makes it very hard to make friends.

They will work or play parallel to their peers instead of engaging in an activity with the person. They may play different video games while next to each other, or tend to their personal sports card collection while they are hanging out. Neither one is touching the other’s things but they can show each other what they have and share all of their knowledge on the subject.

They also have difficulty empathizing and relating to their peers in a way that fosters a traditional friendship. Finding an independent and slightly submissive peer who has a significant interest in the same area as the teen with Asperger’s is the key.

Why They Might Need Companionship

People of all ages who have Asperger’s spend much of their time in their own world entertaining themselves. When the teenage years approach they will often begin to long for the companionship and comradery they see with other teens around them.

It is important for their family and loved ones to foster that desire as much as they can. Unintentional teen isolation can lead to depression and other emotional distress. Teenagers with Asperger’s already have a significantly higher risk of being prone to depression.

How to Find a Good Fit

A good way for a teen with Asperger’s to make friends would be to join an independent club or activity that involves their personal interest. The independent part is important because many people with Asperger’s Syndrome have a very difficult time working with other people in groups or on teams.

Predictability is extremely important to these teens. They function best when there are no surprises or changes. When working with other people, they can’t always anticipate what another person might say or do. They experience great physical and mental anxiety when someone says something or does something they aren’t expecting. These traits coupled with social awkwardness can be very explosive when working with others.

Teens playing a game together

Teens playing a game together

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Not All Friendships Have to Be the Same

It has long been proven that kids with Asperger’s thrive within a routine. They are happier and more productive when they know exactly what is going to happen next and they can count on it.

Traditional friendships usually involve hanging out sometimes or calling a buddy last minute to see if he wants to go to the new scary movie with some girls.

That kind of friendship wouldn’t work for the teen with Asperger’s. That doesn’t mean that they can’t sustain relationships with other people. It just means that the friendship would look a little different.

Regularly Scheduled Hangouts

Organized friendship would probably be a good term for it. A regularly scheduled time and activity would be a wonderful way for a teen with Asperger’s to maintain a friendship with a peer.

A good example would be, every Tuesday after school the two friends play a particular computer game together for two hours. The only stipulation to that scenario would be that if the time or game needed to change for any reason, the teen would have to know that well in advance of the scheduled time. People with Asperger’s do have a hard time with change but they can adjust with advance notice.

It’s the unexpected that makes them anxious so if they expect the change, they can respond appropriately.

Expand What They Know to Include Other People

Another kind of friendship that would work really well for a teenager with Asperger’s Syndrome is one that is based on their specific area of interest.

If there is a way to take the subject they love most and adapt it in to a social setting it would be wonderful for him/her.

If their passion is basketball for instance, they might be able to keep the score or player statistics for the team at their high school. This would get them involved in an activity that includes many other students while they are still in the comfort zone of their particular interest.

If they are extremely gifted and interested in computer programing, maybe they could join the computer club or yearbook staff and create some amazing programs and special effects for the school.

Not all interests will easily translate into a social activity but many will with just a little creativity from those around them.

The Many Ways a Teen With Asperger's Can Benefit

Examples like these would most likely be successful because they are scheduled, ongoing activities that would encourage the child with Asperger's and their peers to get to know one another better.

This would help them in many ways at once. The teen would be more socially active and feel like a part of something. They would be an important part of a club and the school so other people would count on them.

Most importantly, it would breed tolerance and acceptance among many of their peers which would greatly reduce their feelings of isolation.

Even the most independent people need to feel accepted even if they can't truly be understood.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Fed Up with Ableists on June 10, 2020:

Stop saying "with asperger's" asperger's is literally just Autism but you can fake being a neurotypical well. Congratulations, you abused your son. Abused isn't just physical or sexual, it can be emotional too. If you ask him he'll say no because he is either afraid of you or you, (and thus, society), have conditioned him so badly he doesn't even recognize the abuse. Did you consult any autistic adults before this? And no, not just ones you know online. You should have asked in /r/autisticpride or r/aspiememes, consulted before posting. No, I am not harassing or threatening you. Just letting you know the truth. I'm a 15 year old with older parents who are 65 and 58, this post is horrendous, it's disgusting, it's horrifying that people think like this. I am being respectful, just stating my opinion. Autosm isn't a bad thing, you're ableist. And no, ableism isn't defined by how Google tells you.

Aileen Walker on February 01, 2020:

My daughter has Aspergers and copes amazingly but recently the two girls that had been her friends most of the way through secondary school, have drifted away. Their interests have changed and she doesn’t feel included anymore. She’s now finding it difficult to make friends in school and finds school time very lonely. She has no friends out of school either. I just don’t know what to do to help her.

Ingrid on August 07, 2018:

Living in Central America while dealing with an aspiring teen is really overwhelming. I truly appreciate your post and will definitely try to use SoMo of these ideas. As a parent I suffer a lot, knowing that my boy is such an amazing person but still an outcast everywhere. Tks!

Roxanne Lewis (author) from Washington on April 21, 2012:

Kids with Asperger's can make amazing strides like the ones your seeing in your daughter's friend. When the have people around them have patients and care enough to teach them the social rules they need, it's a huge gift to them! Your daughters friend is very lucky to have such amazing people around her and such a great friend.

Yvonne Spence from UK on April 21, 2012:

This is interesting to me because one of my daughters has a friend with aspergers, and they hit the teens this year. In the last few years my daughter’s friend has really made huge leaps in her ability to interact with others. When I think back to how she was a few years ago it’s hard to believe it’s the same kid. She has a very supportive mother and has had opportunities to mix with others in a group, as you suggest.

The girls do things together such as go to the cinema with a few other friends and they are all interested in similar television programs and books so they have plenty to talk about.

I think all your suggestions here are great.

Roxanne Lewis (author) from Washington on April 18, 2012:

teaches12345, the toughest time in these kids lives are during school. Anything that will help them survive such a social atmosphere is worth a try. :)

Dianna Mendez on April 18, 2012:

It is good to know that there are certain proven methods that will help teens with this syndrome. Any teen would feel better knowing what to expect, and this is especially more so for these teens. Good hub topic. I found it very interesting. WEll DONE! Voted up.

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