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Kaarin Anderson Ryan 1.31.19

Friendship. For many people, friendship is one of the most important things in life.  Why does friendship carry such weight for us?  What exactly does it mean to have a friend?  What does it mean to be a friend?  What are the different kinds of friends?

Friendship is a complex concept.  We start to see signs of interest in friendship early in life, as studies show social interest during the first year of life.  As we develop, the concept of friendship changes with us.  We go from simple interaction and play skills to intricate and complicated social relationships.  Navigating the world of friendship is not necessarily easy, and most of us do not go through life without some bumps in the road regarding friendship and social interaction.

How then, do people with autism and other social anxiety issues manage to form and maintain friendships?  Sadly, there are still people with autism at all age levels who don’t have friends.  Today I am going to focus on young adults.

Young adults with autism and other unique abilities often struggle socially when they leave the school system.  Some of these young adults goon to attend college while others go into the workplace.  Some attend training programs, and there are still some who end up with limited support and direction for their future.  Whatever path they have taken, social interaction and friendship can be a challenge.

Take, for example, a young adult who attended the same school system from kindergarten through high school.  He or she may have developed friendships and social connections within that school setting, but while the high school peers move on to college or work they will often branch out to meet new people while maintaining some connection with a few close high school friends.  Unfortunately, people with disabilities don’t always stay in that loop.  Meanwhile, finding friends in college or in the workplace for a young adult with autism is far more challenging than it is for their high school peers who don’t have autism.  Other college students or coworkers don’t understand them, might find them difficult to interact with or seem awkward in other ways.  Without that life history the young adult had with school-age peers, finding acceptance might not be as easy.

What can we do to better support young adults with autism in college and in the community?

  • Just like with our younger kids with autism (see earlier blogpost from 11-16-18), we can look into joining social groups with common interests.  College campuses offer a wide variety of groups, and most colleges are willing to facilitate new groups fairly easily.  I have known young adults with autism who have successfully been able to start a social interest group on a college campus in order to meet others with similar interests.  Start with what already exists, and if there isn’t a good group for your student encourage him or her to work on starting group.
  • Look into colleges who have extra support for people with autism and other needs.  Most colleges have disability services to help with academic accommodations and many have support services such as counseling.  Some colleges have started implementing peer mentor programs specifically to help students with autism adjust to life on campus.  This website provides more detailed information on colleges who have amazing programs specifically to support students with ASD on campus.
  • Look for community resources to provide job support for students with ASD.  There are many local, county, and state programs designed to help people with different needs find and keep jobs.  These organizations will often offer job coaching and mentoring.
  • Inquire locally about businesses that are more friendly to hiring and supporting people with different needs.
  • Look into local organizations who support people with autism and other different needs, as they may have resources to help connect young adults with opportunities for social inclusion.  Some organizations that have local chapters include Autism Society of America, The Arc, and The National Down Syndrome Society.

Thanks for reading and join us again next time!

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