Written by Paul Micallef, autistic adult and Shannan Lea, educator and mum of an autistic child.
Friendship can build confidence, provide emotional support, increases our heart and brain health, promote a positive outlook on life and reduces stress….they can also have very negative effects on our wellbeing. How do we avoid that?
What is a Good Friend?
Friendship can build confidence, provide emotional support, increases our heart and brain health, promote a positive outlook on life and reduces stress.
Friendships can foster a sense of ‘belonging’ and reduce the vulnerability risks associated with exclusion and loneliness. Good friendships have a solid foundation of communication and empathy and are resilient because they have strength and flexibility.
Some of the Characteristics of a Good Friend: Traits of Integrity, Caring and Congeniality
They value you and respect you
Reciprocity: you value and respect them in return
Honesty: they communicate truthfully and kindly
Trust: you can share feelings and know that information about you is safe
Reliability: you will be there for each other in good and bad times
A good listener: you listen to each other and are non-judgemental
Similar or complementary core values: you share similar feelings about things like friendship, courage, creativity, learning, justice, and kindness.
Both similar and different interests: it’s important to have a few things in common that you share while accepting and supporting any differences. Not everyone likes the same things but learning about the things you don’t have in common can be interesting and works to strengthen your bond.
Inclusive: a good friend will make invite you to be a part of any opportunities that come up and include you within a group.
They are often good fun and enjoyable to be around: all friendships have ups and downs, good and bad days. Overall, your friendship should be a positive experience.
Loyalty: a loyal friend will look out for you, stand up for you and support you.
Flexibility: good friends will make every effort to stay in touch, communicate and share their new experiences with you. Having a friend outside of school can help you strengthen your sense of self identity.
There are different types of friendship: acquaintance, friend, close friend, and best friend.
The type of relationship depends on how many of the traits of good friendship you share.
Expectations and perspective are also important elements of friendship. Not everyone will like you, share your interests or accept you for you are, but there are people who will.
Being good mannered and pleasant shows that you respect these core values and yourself enough to practice them, irrespective of their friendship status.
What Friendship is NOT
Behaviours that Show Someone is NOT Your Friend:
They make you feel uncomfortable and do not value or appreciate you.
They put you down, either directly, or indirectly which is often disguised as joking or teasing.
Their friendship is conditional on a set of rules that you must follow, and that they may regularly modify or change to suit themselves.
They betray your trust or share information that is personal.
They display volatile or unpredictable behaviour that makes you feel nervous or anxious
There is very little reciprocity – they ask for things, or support, or your time but do not offer the same in return.
They compare or rank other people, or they try to change you. This is different from being honest and supporting you, this is change that is conditional on your remaining friends.
They do not take responsibility for themselves or their actions or blame you for their choices.
They react negatively to your success, popularity, or need to be the focus of attention.
They have a set of arbitrary goals or benchmarks that you must meet to remain friends.
They ask you to do something unsafe, unkind, or dangerous to “prove” your friendship. This type of behaviour is toxic, controlling and manipulative.
Maintaining Friendships and Coping with Change:
Nurturing friendships allows you to maintain those close bonds with people you genuinely care about, even if you change schools, start afterschool activities, or move homes. Nurturing requires empathy, good communication and reciprocity.
Be kind: if you think of your friendship as a bank, make sure you make regular deposits of kindness – offer your support, or listen to your friend, make time for them, and make sure you make time to spend together.
Listen: make sure that you share the friendship limelight and focus. Allow your friend to take centre stage, and take a back seat, only asking questions to clarify or ask for more details. Let your friend work through their ideas and opinions without interruption.
Open up: make sure you share your thoughts and feelings, and let your trusted friends understand what is happening in your world and how you are feeling about it. This will build up your bond.
Trust: friendship often changes when you move into different classes, schools, or activities. This means that there will be a range of new people and new information to process and interpret. Remember that new friends and acquaintances are not threatening, and cannot replace the past, or shared experiences you have had with your friend. Be supportive, and non-judgemental, and you will continue to have a valued position in your friend’s life.
Availability: As your life becomes increasingly busy with schoolwork, after school activities, sport, music, and family commitments, make sure you make time to catch up in person or online with your friend. Ask a parent for help if you’re not sure how to fit everything in and they will support you with time management and liaising with your friend’s family.
Mindfulness: a positive or growth mindset is key to learning and making the most of opportunities at school, but it is also important in relationships too. Catastrophising or predicting the possible number of things that could go wrong, focusing on embarrassing situations, mistakes, or times when you were uncomfortable will not only affect your self-esteem, but your friendships as well. Everyone feels anxious, scared, or uncertain some of the time. Try placing those feelings into perspective and practicing gratitude to help balance out your emotions. Positivity and self-confidence are very likeable qualities in a friend as they promote self-acceptance and healthy levels of self-esteem.
Children with autism can be more vulnerable when building and assessing suitable friendships due to possible challenges with reading, interpreting, and engaging in social communication and behaviour.
Good friends are caring, show integrity and congeniality
People who are not your friend often have different core values and behave in ways that are unkind, disrespectful, attention seeking, or controlling.
Maintaining good friendships requires kindness, openness, flexibility, and effort.