Dealing with autism can be difficult, as the traits of such aren’t always accommodated in a world that is geared towards neurotypical individuals. Therefore, if you have a friend with autism, there are plenty of things that you can do to make them feel more comfortable. Autism testing and the strains of everyday life can be very taxing, meaning that your friends with autism will be very appreciative of any steps that you take to make their lives a little bit easier. There are many aspects to consider when it comes to creating an “autism-friendly” environment, each of which is detailed below.
For a lot of individuals with autism, communication is something that can be a real struggle. Despite this, it’s important to note that not every single individual with autism will express the same traits. Therefore, your friend with autism might not struggle with communication. There’s nothing wrong with asking your friend what they struggle with so that you can act accordingly. In fact, they’ll likely appreciate the effort that you’re putting into making them comfortable.
If your friend does struggle with communications, it’s a good idea to use their name, keep language unambiguous, and speak slowly and clearly. On top of this, they may require a little time to process what you’re saying to them, and you should enable them to take this time. Of course, there are things that you should avoid, too. For instance, you shouldn’t bombard them with questions, attempt to have a conversation in a noisy environment, or use phrases that could have different meanings (e.g., break a leg).
Once again, anxiety presents itself in many different ways and it very much depends on the individual. Despite this, common causes of anxiety for people with autism include routine changes and brightly colored or noisy spaces. As a result, you should respect your friend’s routine and, should any changes need to be made, you should be supportive of them, as opposed to making them feel as though their anxiety is invalid. Similarly, if they’re clearly uncomfortable in a certain space, you should suggest going elsewhere so that they feel that they’re able to leave. It’s vital that you reassure your friend that their anxiety is not a fault of their own.
Another struggle that some people with autism experience is eating difficulties. As a result, your autistic friend may not want to partake in activities that involve food or will have very specific requirements surrounding food should you dine out together. People with autism may only want to eat food of a certain texture or color, eat too much or too little, or even have problems with choking or coughing whilst eating. Once again, you should be understanding of these difficulties and not make your friend feel as though they’re being an inconvenience if they’re unable to eat something. They’re not trying to be difficult and it’s not something that’s easy to manage.
One mistake that lots of people make when dealing with someone with autism is forcing them into social situations when they’re quite happy to be on their own. Your friend with autism may not want to socialise too often and might be content with being by themselves a lot of the time. The best thing that you can do is reassure them that you’ll be there for them should they need or want you, but there’s no pressure to socialise if they don’t want to. Socialising can be really stressful as someone with autism, so it’s best that it’s done on the terms of the person with autism.