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‘The Only Way To Have A Friend Is To Be One’ – Friendship Hints

Making friends is not always easy for those in the learning disability or autism communities. Luckily, there are lots of ways you can expand your friendship circles and develop long-term meaningful relationships. We spoke to Anthony Garrett from Guideposts’ Better Connected about making friends when you have a learning disability or autism.

Good Friendships

Although ‘friendship’ means different things to different people, there are some key parts that are needed to make any friendship good. Remember the ingredients to a good friendship:

Empathy

Empathy means to understand someone else’s feelings. Sometimes it is called ‘putting yourself in someone else’s shoes’. You can understand your friend’s feelings by asking what they think about something. Understanding someone’s feelings is an important part of friendship.

Empathy helps us support our friends

Balance

A healthy balance is essential in any relationship. No friendship should be one sided. You should both give and receive support. A friendship might cause unhappiness if you are always there for someone, but they are not there for you. It’s important to avoid being overly dependent, too. Try to avoid depending on one friend for too much: not everyone likes texting throughout the day or meeting up each week. Similarly, your friends shouldn’t expect too much of you.

Trust

Trust is a very important part of every friendship. Trusting a friend means knowing they wouldn’t want to do anything to make you unhappy. Spending time with someone you don’t trust can cause you to feel worried, anxious or unsafe.

A group of friends catching a bus together. One friend is using a wheelchair.

Acceptance

Acceptance and compromise are some of the most challenging aspects of friendships. It is important to accept that sometimes people will have different ideas to you, or different personality characteristics, but you should treat them with kindness and respect. Everyone wants something a little different, and sometimes we have to compromise to reach a decision that suits everybody, even if it isn’t quite perfect. You can use empathy to understand why someone might be thinking differently to you.

Respect

It’s important to respect others in any relationship. You can show respect by treating friends with kindness, and taking their boundaries into account.

What Is Friendship?

Friendship means different things to different people. The meaning of friendships can be complicated due to the role social media plays, and the complexities of living in a fast-changing world, where people’s ideas and interests can change quickly.

In this article, we’ll use the dictionary definition of friendship, which refers to friendships as a close relationship of mutual trust and intimacy.

Are Friendships Important?

For many people, friendships are an important part of life. Having a social network, people to talk to and share interests with, can bring great happiness. Some people feel they don’t need friends, and this does not mean they can’t be happy.

Even though social media can make us think otherwise, the number of friends does not determine how loved or happy you are- it’s the quality of your friendships that counts.

Guideposts members in dodgem carts during a friendship trip.

What If I Find Friendships Difficult?

Like any other relationship, friendships can take work to maintain. Sometimes problems can arise and this can cause stress, anxiety, trust issues, and social isolation. People with a learning disability or autism can find friendships difficult due to social anxiety and social communication issues, as well as with positively sharing perspectives, empathy and thoughts within friendships. Sensitivity to high sensory situations and emotional over-stimulation can cause a lot of anxiety for some people. This can limit friendship opportunities.

What Can Help Me Make Friends?

With the right support, people with a learning disability or autism can overcome these issues. Ongoing relationship support and training can assist with challenges like missing social cues, low self-esteem, and social isolation. Support can help you engage in meaningful friendships. There are different types of support available. You might find some options suit you better than others.

Peer Support Groups

There are peer support groups especially for people with learning disabilities or autism. They provide social connection and friendship. The groups are a good way to meet new people in a supported and safe environment. Some groups meet monthly or weekly so you can keep seeing your new friends. If you are in Hertfordshire, you might like to join Friendship 4 All. You will be able to meet new people in a fun setting with a different activity each week. You can pick from friendship clubs, walking groups, lunch clubs, art groups and more. It’s a great way to make friends in a supportive setting.

Online Social Networks

Online platforms and social networks can help provide a supportive virtual space for you to connect with others, share experiences, and develop friendships. You can join online networks from home. Our Better Connected groups are great for meeting new people from around the UK. We organise online events throughout the week, and we meet up in-person too. We also have a fun monthly magazine with activity ideas, friendship tips and our latest news.

A screenshot of Better Connected members chatting online. Friendship can be made even from home!
You can chat with other Better Connected members from anywhere in the UK- even from your own house!

Relationship-Building Skills Training

Relationship-building skills training focuses on teaching people with learning disabilities or autism the skills needed to initiate, maintain and deepen friendships. These skills include active listening, empathy, problem-solving, conflict resolution, and self-advocacy. Having these skills will help you feel more confident making friends.

This article was published in our Better Connected magazine. For more information please click here.

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