A friend is one of the nicest things you can have, and one of the best things you can be. ~Douglas Pagels
If you are wondering how to best help a child, teen, or adult on the autism spectrum, you can begin by helping them understand what a good friendship looks like.
Many of us take friendship for granted. Yet, friendship becomes a more complicated concept when you think about breaking it down into its key elements.
Fortunately, the PEERS program has done a great job of painting a picture of the characteristics of a good friendship.
Characteristics of A Good Friendship
Interests can include hobbies, weekend activities, and interests. While friends may not always have exactly the same interests, they have more in common than not. These common interests become a bridge upon which they can meet to build their friendship.
This means that you fee comfortable enough with each other to share your private thoughts, feelings, and stories. This characteristic must be learned gradually for an individual on the autism spectrum. Telling an acquaintance too many of your deepest secrets can scare them away. Sharing personal information needs to be done slowly and progressively as the relationship develops.
This characteristic means that you and your friend progressively learn more about each other’s thoughts, values, likes, dislikes, and habits. As a individual on the autism spectrum develops the frienship skill of empathy, s/he will be able to develop the motivation to learn more about her/his potential friend.
This characteristic means that you can disagree, argue, and even fight with each other without ending the friendship. A health friendship allows for differences of opinion, but there is an ability to solve those arguments and conflicts and still be friends.
This is a critical characteristic of a true friendship. Sometimes, a person may be so desperate for friendship that s/he may settle for a one sided, even abusive, relationship. A true friendship is a healthy relationship, in which there is a sense of equality. The friendship is reciprocal in nature, meaning both parties are equals, no one side dominates the other, and you treat each other with respect.
This means that there is a sense of fondness, warmth, and caring for one another. I’ve been watching Bones lately. Dr. Temperance Brennan and Agent Seely Booth develop a strong friendship over the course of working together on unsolved mysteries. They both have learned about how the other ticks, even though they have differences in how they view the world. Dr. Brennan dedicates her book to Agent Booth. and Agent Booth is often found looking out and showing concern for Dr. Brennan. There is a sense of warmth even as they poke fun at each other.
This characteristic develops over time. As you get to know each other, disclose information to the other, and spend more time together, you are able to develop the mutual understanding even in the midst of arguments. The affection and care in the relationship and the commitment to each other builds the loyalty and trust that are the glue of long term friendships.
So there six characteristics of a good friendship. While this article does not point out the How of making a friend, it does provide a template of what a good friendship looks like. It’s important to know these characteristics as you move forward in getting to know people who may turn into friends.
Additional Helpful Reading:
The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert John Mordecai Gottman
I’m not saying that a friendship is a marriage! However, the principles for a successful marriage are very similar to those needed to make a friendship work. Keep an open mind as you read through the evidence based research Dr. Gottman has put together. His research originally focused on predictors of factors that would lead to divorce. By reversing those predictors, he has identified what works in long-term, healthy marriages.
The Unwritten Rules of Friendship: Simple Strategies to Help Your Child Make Friends , by Eileen Kennedy-Moore.
This book is written to help parents understand strategies for helping their children make friends. As long as you adapt what you know about the autism spectrum to these strategies, this can be a very helpful book.
photo credit: zachrious
Are there other characteristics I have left out? Are there any other resources or books on this topic that you would recommend?