Do People with Autism Connect Best with Other People with Autism?

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video games. Getty

Most people with autism have behaviors and symptoms which, if not identical, at least fall within the same general ballpark. Most people with autism have special interests and tend to perseverate on their interests. Most have stims -- physical movements that center and calm them. Most have some level of social anxiety and/or difficulty, and most have at least some challenges with verbal and non-verbal communication.

Does that mean that people with autism are likely to become best buddies with one another? And, if the answer to that first question is "yes," should people with autism be encouraged to spend time together?

While there is some logic behind the question, in many ways it's like saying "People with migraines prefer dark, quiet rooms, take specific medications, and complain of pain in their heads. Does that mean people with migraines should spend time together?"

It Depends on the Person

As with migraineurs (and any other groups that share a chronic issue), people with autism do in fact have certain things in common that can make it easier to connect. Some of the time. On certain topics. But like people with any other chronic issue, people with autism are very, very different from one another. In some cases, spending time together can be terrific; in other cases, it can be downright awful.

For example: imagine a person with autism whose special interest is Minecraft.

Yes, there are other people with autism who are just as fascinated by Minecraft, and no doubt they'd find a lot to connect about. But bring that person together with another autistic person whose interest is Disney movies, and you set yourself up for failure. Not only do these individuals have very different interests, but, because they are autistic, they will find it very difficult to figure out what the other person cares about, discover commonalities, and engage in friendly small talk.

At best, the two individuals will ignore each other; at worst they'll drive each other crazy.

Or envision an "autism classroom" which includes children who are very verbal and only moderately verbal; gifted and intellectually challenged; mild-mannered and aggressive. Yes, they all have autism spectrum disorder, they're all verbal, they're all able to respond to spoken direction. They may all be able to read and do math, at least at a basic level. Will they all become friends on the basis that they are diagnosable on the autism spectrum? Chances are slim to none. Like any other groups of kids, they'll develop connections with some classmates and find others flat out annoying.

On the other hand, some self-aware teens and adults with autism do in fact find it helpful to get together with others on the spectrum, whether for emotional support or to access resources. In addition, quite a few people on the spectrum work together to take action on issues ranging from political activism to job creation to policy development.

Organizations like the Autistic Self Advocacy Network are made up entirely of people on the spectrum.

Bottom Line

Parents need to see their child as an individual, not as representative of the "autism" group. Are there likely companions for their child within their group of peers? If so, the first step is to ask your child "would you like to get together with so and so?" If the answer is no, don't assume it's a knee-jerk reaction. There may be excellent reasons for saying no -- or yes -- to any relationship.

Obviously, adults on the spectrum are adults, and as such, make their own decisions relative to friendships and associations.

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