Girls Just Wanna Know How to Make Friends
By Karen Kaplan
I recently returned to an area I had been away from for more than 20 years and decided to re-learn my way around by checking out all the independent bookstores. During one of my stops, I picked up a book entitled friendships don’t just happen! The author is Shasta Nelson, who founded Girlfriend and Girlfriend Circles. I took the book home, thinking it might provide suggestions on ways to make new friends and connect with past ones. But as I read its pages, it hit me that this book would be perfect for girls, teens, ladies, or women on the autism spectrum. Wow.
From the very first pages, I agreed with the author. I, like the author states, am outgoing and have had some long-term friendships, but suddenly, I was in a new city without a group of friends with whom to connect. So, I needed some extra wisdom on how to connect again. I did not want to feel alone.
I am sharing some of the wisdom I gained from the book in hopes that it will inspire teachers, speech therapists, parents, self-advocates, and others committed to helping women on the spectrum develop friendships. So, if someone you know has some sense of loneliness or not feeling connected, perhaps some of these thoughts and ideas could help.
1. Research tells us that having friends brings happiness. It suggests that these connections help us develop better health and success in our lives. So, find those research articles and perhaps share them. Especially if your friend is anxious about forming friendships or questions the purpose, show her that the research says supportive friendships apparently lower our stress, help us reach our goals, and may even prevent disease.
2. Please ensure you communicate that making friends is not always easy. Developing friendships takes time.
3. Point out that there are different kinds of friends. Perhaps make a list of your very own friends and talk about how each is a different kind of friend (see #4 and #5). For example, some friends we see due to shared interests, perhaps they attend classes with us, or we see them in church or at the gym. The author says they can be defined as Contact Friends or Community Friends once we spend more time with them.
4. Common Friends develop out of our contact friends. Maybe someone taking a class or we see at the gym or church asks us to have a drink before or after or share a meal afterward. We begin to share more of ourselves with these common friends. We feel more connected to these women.
5. Then there are committed friends. We share our feelings with them. We make time for these women in our lives. They are in our daily lives. These friends remain consistent, no matter what. They are the highest level of friendships. We can also have confirmed friends with whom we share a history, but the connection is inconsistent. They are not in our daily lives.
6. Perhaps it could help if you developed a social story Home - Carol Gray - Social Stories (carolgraysocialstories.com) about the different types of friends, read it with them, and have a conversation about the story.
7. Then, try to identify whether your individual feels alone. Are they sitting alone every night watching videos, playing games on the screen, or reading book after book? Are they sad or depressed? Do they feel left out? Talk about the idea of developing friendships.
8. Shasta Nelson believes that we must develop “frientimacy.” This is when we develop consistent intimacy with someone. She discusses her five stages of frientimacy. Curiosity is the first. Our shared interests, enthusiasm, and curiosities lead us to potential friends. Exploration is the next. We commit to spending time with the person. We must show up consistently. Familiarity is third. It takes time to become comfortable with someone. This takes us sharing our thoughts, feelings, and interests with one another. Next is vulnerability. We must be okay with connecting even when feeling sad, anxious, or frightened. We must be okay with making mistakes in front of this person. We must be willing to be imperfect with this person. Frienintimacy then arrives. This is when you trust the other person. Each listens to the other. This is when you continue to show up/be there for the other person. This is when each celebrates the other.
9. Make a list with your individual of all their interests and curiosities. Then have them research local events that match their interests. Help them commit to saying yes to attending these events, parties, and gatherings so they can meet new people.
10. If your individual does not have a hobby, help them try to develop one from their list of interests. For example, if they enjoy reading, teach them to look for a book club to join.
11. Talk to them about exploring whether or their religious practices align with a center that hosts events. Encourage them to attend an event a few times to see how it feels and see the types of people who also attend.
12. Do any of their interests align with volunteering opportunities in their community? Here they can meet other volunteers with similar interests and begin to develop some common friendships.
13. If your individual has a dog, perhaps heading to a dog park to meet other owners of animals could inspire a friendship. Once again, be sure they go to the park often to see people using it more consistently.
14. If your individual enjoys a specific topic, taking a class or workshop on that topic can open doors to friendships.
15. Perhaps your individual has never met her neighbors. Maybe you might support her in making cookies or holiday bread and taking it over to the neighbors. Help her make an introduction. Later she might do a backyard neighbor gathering and get to know what interests her neighbors might have. Friendships could develop from neighborhood get-togethers.
16. My favorite is finding the perfect coffee house to frequent. I repeatedly find that if I go to my local coffee house at least three days a week, I begin to see others who love the café and consistently stay and read, write, or work on a computer. Eventually, our eyes meet, hellos start, and discussions about what someone is reading, writing, or attending to on the computer develop. Eventually, stories about who they are and who I am take place. The same can happen if you have a local bookstore that puts on reading nights. If your individual loves to read, then bookstore reading events could be another way to begin to meet other book lovers and develop some common friends. Maybe they like to play Bingo. Perhaps the church has a Bingo Night. Then, they can meet other BINGO lovers.
So, if you are a girl who just wants to make friends, try some of the above recommendations.
Karen Kaplan is a native San Franciscan. She completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, in Speech Pathology and Audiology. She minored in Special Education and obtained her Speech Therapist and Special Education credentials in California. Karen worked as a speech therapist for both public schools and private schools for 20 years before opening her own residential and education program for students with autism spectrum disorders. She worked in credential programs at Sacramento State University as well as UC Davis and spent 20 additional years directing private schools for those with autism and similar learning challenges. Karan founded a small non-profit, Offerings, which travels globally helping other cultures understand those with developmental challenges. For seven years, she founded and facilitated an autism lecture series and resource fair in Northern California. Karen still facilitates an Autism Awesomeness event yearly, showcasing the strengths and talents of those who live on the spectrum. She is currently consulting, helping families, schools, and centers for children, teens, and adults. She has published articles to help bring ideas and strategies to families and professionals, providing hope. Karen authored Reach Me Teach Me in the early 70s and went on to publish her second book, On the Yellow Brick Road Finding Hope for Autism, in 2017. Her third book, Typing to Heaven and Back, is not about autism but about having important conversations with those we love. Be sure to connect with Karen—she is always ready to listen and think of the possibilities.