Building and Maintaining Friendships in Middle School

The school year is upon us. For teens and adolescents on the Autism Spectrum, the most stressful factor besides a new routine is forming new friendships and renegotiating the terms of existing relationships after a summer break in which a lot of growth and change has occurred. Here are some conversation starters that will help you to get your teen thinking about the important factors in building and maintaining relationships with peers.

Making New Friends

Teens tend to "lose themselves" in exciting new friendships, taking on the interests and mannerisms of the friend or social circle they are trying to join. Encourage your child to think carefully about their own interests and inner life before they go looking for new friends, in order to form a friendship that is truly mutual.

Here are some practical tips for interacting:

  • Make eye contact
  • Make a connection "I noticed the sticker on your notebook and I like the band Gotye too. Have you heard their new song?"
  • Listen to the response carefully
  • Suggest a joint activity or ask a follow up question
  • Set a follow up communication

Reconnecting with Friends

        One of the biggest strains on a relationship is non parallel development. Teens and adolescents interests shift so rapidly, that a summer apart can seem like an eternity. In order to re-establish a friendship both parties need to commit to active and open listening.

        • "Tell me about what you did this summer."
        • "Do you still like to..."
        • "There is something I have been wanting to try..."

        Interacting with the Opposite Sex

          By far, the most treacherous social waters to navigate are interactions with the opposite sex. To avoid misunderstandings, encourage your teen to think about boundaries. 

          • When friendly touch is appropriate during conversation, restrict it to a light touch on the arm or shoulder.
          • Avoid jokes or humor that could be interpreted as sexual.
          • Stay away jokes that make statements about gender.

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