How to help an autistic friend

It’s easy to walk away when a friendship is challenged.

Our elder says sometimes we have to try a little harder to make it work.

Dear EWC:

Hello! I have had some issues at school which is why this is a problem. My two best friends (I’ll call them M and E) and I always hang out together at school. M has autism. Recently E and I haven’t been happy with the language and actions M has used towards us, mainly things like ‘stupid’ or ‘dumb’ or ‘ugly’ and some other words that contain bad language.
Also, she hurts us and once grabbed my wrist and said I had abandoned her because I went to print something out without her. The worst thing she did was trying to push me off my chair, which, luckily for me, she did not succeed in doing. E has also had issues with M as she has slapped her continuously in the face for her own amusement.

Because E and I were not happy with this, I then proceeded to write what I thought was a nice message about why we no longer want to be her friend. A few minutes later, I received a message from M’s dad saying that M is devastated and doesn’t understand how a friendship can go away so quickly. I am now unsure what to do as I have many missed calls and messages from her parents explaining that M doesn’t mean to do what she does. I do not want to be her friend, but I am also unsure of what to do about it. Thank you.

Tutu-Debbie replies:

I think you are a good friend to have and I know it must be hard to forget and forgive M’s behavior. If she didn’t have autism, I would expect you to walk away from her friendship. However, because she is on the spectrum, and probably doesn’t have many
friends, I think you and E should consider another option besides just dropping her.

I would suggest you arrange to sit down with her parents, without M at first, and fill them in on M’s recent behavior. You will need to let them know that this is not how she used to act around you two. They may know of something that is affecting her behavior recently, or be able to find out. Then, if things go well, you three girls and her parents might be able to meet and set some behavior goals. Perhaps it could be that you won’t be around M for the rest of the day if she is rude or violent. Perhaps her parents will have good ideas. Maybe M sees a therapist who could help. Depending on your situation, you may want to involve E’s and your parents in this. Another possibility would be to meet with a counselor at school to try to sort this out.

While it might be easy to give up on M and her friendship, she must offer something to you as her friends, or you would never have become friends. It would be good, but not easy, if you could focus on the benefits of her friendship rather than the hurt she has caused you, assuming she can stop this behavior with help.
I am not suggesting that you continue to be friends with her while she is rude and violent towards you. If that continues, you will need to walk away for your own protection. Good luck to you and E!


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