Tony’s Blog

Adolescent Autistic Friendships

Typical children go through four stages of friendship from pre-school to adolescence, with the fourth stage becoming apparent from around the age of 13. During the previous stage of friendship (9 to 13 years) there is usually a small core of close, same gender friends, but in stage four the number of friends, gender, and quality of friendship changes. There can be different friends for different needs, such as emotional comfort, humour and entertainment, or practical advice for schoolwork. A friend is defined in stage four as someone who ‘accepts me for who I am’ or ‘we think the same way about things.’ A friend provides a sense of personal identity, self-esteem, connectedness, and resonance with one’s own personality. There are less concrete and more abstract definitions of friendship, with what may be described as ‘autonomous inter-dependence’. The friendships are less possessive and exclusive, and conflict is resolved with self-reflection, compromise, and negotiation.

Managing an Autistic Meltdown

The primary causes of a meltdown are stress from sensory sensitivity, cognitive overload, and aspects of social engagement.
One of the diagnostic characteristics of autism is hyper- or hypo-reactivity to sensory input. Clinical experience, autobiographies and research has confirmed that autism is associated with a different profile of exteroception and interoception. Exteroception is the perception of the external sensory world and interoception is the perception of the internal sensory world. We know that autistic individuals often have extreme sensitivity to external sensory experiences within the auditory, tactile, visual, and olfactory sensory systems. The sensitivity is much greater than with typical individuals, and sensory experiences that are often not noticed and easily accommodated by non-autistic people, are extremely intense and distressing, if not actually painful, for an autistic person. We are also recognizing that autistic people may have an extraordinary sensitivity to negative emotions in other people. This can be someone’s agitation, disappointment, and anxiety. Negative emotions can be acutely and accurately perceived and ‘infect’ the autistic person, becoming a contributary factor for increased stress and a potential trigger for a meltdown.