“How do you deal with feeling like you have no friends? I usually don’t bother trying to make small talk, but being socially isolated makes me depressed. I want to figure out why I have no friends and how to make some.”
Although each person’s experience of Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) is different, many people face similar social challenges.
If you have AS and are finding it hard to make friends, this article can help you understand why. You’ll also learn how to meet new people and get to know them. This is the first step to building great friendships.
People with AS have problems interpreting social cues. For example, they may have problems “reading” body language, tone of voice, and gestures.
This can make it difficult to understand what someone is thinking or feeling unless they explicitly tell you. Neurotypical people usually assume you can read these cues.
For example, suppose your colleague tells you that they are having a bad day at work and are worried about their mother, who is very sick. If you have AS, you might assume they are just telling you about their day. After all, that is literally what they are doing. It may not be obvious that your colleague’s true intention might be to get some sympathy or comfort from you.
Neither person is “right” or “wrong” in this kind of situation, but if you don’t pick up on someone else’s implied meaning and give them the response they are expecting, they may see you as aloof or uncaring.
If you have AS, you may struggle with identifying, predicting, and relating to other peoples’ emotions. This is sometimes called mind-blindness or “impaired theory of mind.” In general, people with AS struggle to look at a situation from another person’s perspective.
People tend to expect that their friends will feel with them (empathy) or at least for them (sympathy). When this quality appears to be missing, it can be difficult to establish trust and to convince someone that you genuinely care about their well-being.
Sensory overload is common in people with AS. Loud sounds, strong smells, bright lights, and other stimuli might cause you a lot of distress. For example, busy places may be too noisy, making it impossible to enjoy socializing. Others might not understand why you are uncomfortable, which can be awkward.
There’s much more to language than words, but people aren’t equally attuned to things like slang, sarcasm, and different types of humor.
AS can make it trickier to catch on when it comes to non-literal statements and meanings. Deadpan humor or irony might not be immediately obvious to you. You may take things literally and feel like people don’t get your humor – or that you don’t get theirs. This can make you feel excluded or awkward.
At least 50% of adults with AS have anxiety, depression, or both. Monitoring your behavior, trying to decode what other people are implying, plus dealing with strangers or groups can feel overwhelming when you have anxiety on top of AS. When faced with this frustration, some people with AS feel discouraged and decide that socializing isn’t worth the effort.
One common characteristic of AS is having highly specific or “unusual” interests. Conversations or interactions outside of your passion(s) may not hold your attention, and you might struggle to stay engaged.
It might not occur to you to make a point of asking people about themselves or asking follow-up questions. From a stranger’s perspective, it may seem like you want to dominate the conversation or have no real interest in getting to know them.
When you’re discussing your favorite subjects, it’s easy to begin to “talk at” someone without even realizing it. You may not notice when the other person thinks it’s time for you to slow down or change the subject.
The people you talk to may want to get to know you better but not know how to move the conversation in that direction. You may miss opportunities to turn one-off meetings into something more.
People with AS often experience bullying and discrimination. Bullying isn’t only a problem for children and adults; it affects people of all ages. If you’ve been bullied at work or school, you might decide to play it safe by avoiding social interaction altogether.
Most neurotypical people assume (although this isn’t always true) that someone who can’t look them in the eyes won’t be a trustworthy friend. If you struggle with eye contact — which is common in those with AS — others might be slow to trust you.
It’s usually easier to make friends with someone when you have a common interest. Search for meetups and events at meetup.com. Try to find a recurring event that will give you the chance to get to know new people slowly over time.
If you don’t have a niche interest but would like to try a new hobby, check out your nearest community college or education center. They may have some part-time or evening courses you could try. Start your search online. Google “[your town or city] + courses.”
Hiki and Aspie Singles are specially designed for people on the autism spectrum. There’s no reason to avoid popular apps like Bumble or Tinder if you’d like to try them. It’s definitely possible to have great friendships with neurotypical people if you have AS. However, some people with AS like to seek out others who are similar to themselves. It can be easier to relate to people with similar life experiences.
Along with apps, you might also like to try online communities for people with AS. The Reddit Aspergers community and Wrong Planet are good places to start. Wrong Planet has several subforums for members to introduce themselves and make friends. If you meet someone you like, you could ask them whether they’d like to meet up offline or get together via a video call.
If you have a close relative who understands your challenges as someone with AS, tell them that you want to make new friends. They may have been wondering whether you want to meet new people. Your relative might be able to introduce you to one of their friends or colleagues who would be a good fit for you.
When you make a new friend, let them know you want to grow your social circle. You might get on well with your friend’s friends. Over time, you could become part of a large friendship group.
Problems making eye contact is a hallmark of AS, but you can train yourself to do it. One trick is to look at the other person’s iris when you’re speaking to them. Studying the color and texture of someone’s eyes can be easier than just trying to look at them directly. For more tips, see this guide to making confident eye contact.
Problems with reading and using body language is a classic sign of AS. For example, some people tend to speak too loudly or stand too close to others. This can make them come across as aggressive, even if they are in a good mood.
Learning to understand the unspoken rules around body language will help reduce misunderstandings and make you come off as more approachable. This online resource can help you figure out the basics. Changing your body language may feel strange at first, but gets easier with practice.
Small talk can feel tedious, but it’s a gateway to deeper conversations. See it as a way of establishing trust between two people. Small talk is also important for another reason: it’s a screening process. By making light conversation, you can discover what (if anything) you and someone else have in common. When you and another person share interests, it’s a good foundation for a friendship.
For an in-depth guide on how to start conversations, including people you don’t know well, see our article “I Can’t Talk To People”.
Once you’ve picked up the basics, the key is to practice. Try having brief conversations with people you see in your everyday life. This might be the person who sits next to you at work, a neighbor, or the barista in your favorite coffee shop.
When you’ve met someone you like and enjoyed a conversation with them, the next step is to get their contact details. For example, you could say, “I’ve really enjoyed talking to you. Can we swap numbers and keep in touch?”
You can then follow up with them. Ask them to join you for a shared activity that is based on your mutual interests. For example, if you both love philosophy, you could say, “Hey, I’m going to a philosophy talk at the local library this Friday. Would you be interested in coming along?”
For more advice on how to turn acquaintances into friends, see this guide on How to Make Friends.
If you try to make drastic changes in a short space of time, you’ll set yourself up for burnout and anxiety. Instead, make a list of skills you’d like to master. Then think of some small but meaningful goals that will help you improve each skill.
For example, if you want to learn how to make eye contact, your goal could be:
I will make eye contact with one new person every day this week.
If you want to meet new people, your goal could be:
This month, I will join two online communities and reply to at least five posts.
You don’t have to tell anyone you have AS if you don’t want to, but it’s a good idea to let them know about your preferences when making plans. This makes socializing more enjoyable.
For example, if you are easily overwhelmed in noisy environments, it’s OK to say something like, “I’d love to go out for dinner, but noisy places don’t work well for me. Perhaps we could go [insert name of quieter place here]?”
If you make an alternative suggestion, you won’t come off as negative. Most people are flexible when making plans and want to be understanding.
We all have a right to decide what kind of behavior we will and won’t accept from other people. Boundary setting is an important skill for everyone. If you have AS, your boundaries may be slightly different from most other people. To prevent awkward moments, it’s a good idea to practice setting and defending boundaries.
For example, some people with AS have touch aversion. This means they do not like being touched or only enjoy certain types of touch in very specific circumstances. If you have this kind of aversion, it might be a good idea to practice verbalizing boundaries.
- “I’m not a person who likes hugs, so I’d prefer it if you didn’t touch me. What about a high-five instead?”
- “Please do not touch me. I need plenty of personal space.”
If someone can’t respect your boundaries, they are the one in the wrong, not you. People who do not make allowances for others are not usually good friends.
You don’t have to tell someone you have AS. But sometimes it can help. For example, if your friend knows you are sensitive to bright lights or that you dislike large crowds, they can choose social activities and plan events that are more likely to suit you.
Keep a list of links to online resources that explain what AS is and how it affects those who have it. If you can’t find any resources you like, make a list or guide of your own.
It helps to rehearse a few sentences you can use. For example:
“I’d like to tell you something about me. I have a form of autism called Aspergers Syndrome. It affects how I see the world and interact with other people. I think it would be useful to talk about it with you because it could help us understand each other a bit better. Would you be up for talking about it?”
Remember that your friend may know absolutely nothing about AS. They might have a lot of questions, so it’s a good idea to allow some time for a follow-up conversation.
Many people with AS learn social skills by reading about them and getting plenty of practice. Try reading “Improve Your Social Skills” by Dan Wendler. It contains practical step-by-step guidance to help you navigate social situations. Dan has AS, so he understands the challenges you are facing.
If you are depressed or anxious, getting treatment can help you feel more motivated and confident in social situations. When your mood or anxiety levels improve, you may find it easier to talk to people and make friends. Medication, talking therapy, or a combination work for most people. Talk to your doctor about your options, or look for an online therapist via BetterHelp.
When you contact a therapist, ask them whether they have been trained in how to work with clients who have AS. This is important because the relationship you have with your therapist is key to success. If they cannot understand you and the social challenges you face, therapy might be frustrating rather than helpful.
Many Asperger’s and autism organizations have information, tips, and resources for people on the spectrum. They also offer support for families, friends, and carers.
- The Asperger / Autism Network (AANE) provides information, support, and a sense of community for people dealing with autism spectrum disorder. They are also hosting several online meetups for people in need of social engagement and support during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are sessions available for teens and adults.
- If you’re looking for more direct assistance, the Autism Spectrum Coalition has a directory where you can search for organizations and resources near you.
- The Autism Society also has a national helpline you can call for more information about services available in your area on 800-328-8476.
- We have many more tips in our main guide on how to make friends.