Friendships for me have always been complicated. I find it difficult to distinguish between the various levels of friendship such as “acquaintance,” “friend,” “close friend,” or even “BFF” (Best Friend Forever). When it comes to trusting others, I am rather binary in that I will either trust them or not.
I generally view strangers as ‘untrustworthy’ in the beginning. It can take a long time to fully gain my trust because I do not trust easily. As I spend time with someone, I will observe the other person to collect evidence of trustworthiness.
Once a person graduates to the ‘friend’ stage with me, it means that I trust her/him (a) to tell the truth and can believe the words that she/he says, (b) expect her/him to honour commitments and keep promises, and (c) can let down my guard and be myself around her/him.
There are certain qualities valued highly by me in a friend: a great sense of humour, creative thinking, honesty, kindness, perception, trustworthiness, understanding.
My advice for non-autistics looking to be friends with an autistic:
Be your genuine self. I like people for who they are, and appreciate when they like me for me too! 🙂
Embrace stims and other eccentricities. For me, my stims are mostly flapping, fidgeting, and rocking. I usually flap when I get excited, and rock when I am either anxious, under stress, or excited. Fidgeting replaces flapping and rocking in public so that my stims are less obvious and more socially acceptable. If I flap or rock around you, that is HUGE. That means I trust you fully and dare to be vulnerable around you.
Share some passions (‘special interests’). I once had a non-autistic friend in high school named Lloyd. My passion (‘special interest’) at the time was stars and clouds. One of my most poignant memories is of Lloyd and I sitting outside one evening discussing, at great length, stars and clouds. If I start to share my passions (‘special interests’) with you, that means that I am feeling more comfortable around you and am trying to build a friendship with you.
Most, if not all, of us have sensory issues. Know your autistic friend’s sensory challenges. I (as well as many other autistics) prefer quiet places. Personally, I LOVE coffee shops! 🙂
In conclusion, if I am connecting/engaging with you, it is because I find you interesting and want to get to know you better.