How to help your friends with autism

Illustration of girl amongst boys
Written and illustrated by Tatum Farmer.

Carbon’s lifestyle writer Tatum Farmer speaks out about her personal experience with autism.

If you were to think of what an autistic person looks like in your head, the chances are you wouldn’t have the image of someone like me. You’re more likely to have a boy in your head, perhaps more of an introvert, with perhaps communication issues. Of course, these boys exist. But we know that. Not many people think about autistic girls, and why is that? 

Illustration of girl amongst boys

Firstly, girls are a lot better at hiding it. My whole life is basically Chameleon-Tatum, I have the unique ability to fit into ANY social situation and at school, I wanted to be everyone’s best friend. I came home exhausted from the performance I would put on ALL day.

Every autistic person is different, but a big struggle for me is regulating my emotions. If something I feel is unfair and wrong, I will let you know about it, no matter how small the issue might be. As an example, someone recently told me they hated dogs. They said they were messy, noisy and caused chaos. That simple comment, a mere opinion, lead to the boxing ring ‘ding dings’ in my head: they had just started a war – how could ANYONE not like dogs? My dogs are my best friends! 

Illustration of girl with blue hair angry

Of course, just because someone is autistic does not mean they are given a free pass to be unruly with their emotions, however a bit of understanding and acceptance goes a long way. If your autistic friend is feeling overwhelmed with emotion, let them feel it, but do not rally them up. Too often I have had people find my ‘meltdowns’ entertaining, so liked to shake me up like a bottle of coke and I would just explode, but as much as I’d like it to be, this isn’t a West End show, this is my life. Friends telling me to breathe, drink a glass of water, and face the situation a bit later on helps, as my brain isn’t so foggy with all that emotion. 

Another trait I have is huge passions – perhaps bordering on obsessions? My latest autistic ‘obsession’ is Princess Diana – thanks to Netflix’s The Crown – so I ended up watching every single documentary there is about her, to the point where if someone mentioned her in everyday life I simply just had to recite all of the facts about her I had in my head. 

For me, the fact that someone is even listening to me spout out all this supposedly-useless information is a GREAT feeling. Even showing an interest to your autistic friend’s latest passion shows immense respect, even if you don’t feel like listening to 50 facts about all of the different zoos in the UK. (yes, that was another obsession too, just ask my friends).

Illustration of girl with blue hair and speech bubbles

Sensory issues aren’t uncommon for people with autism. For me it isn’t as intense, but sometimes when there are too many noises happening at once, I start to panic, there is too much information reaching my brain and it can cause panic attacks. In my opinion, the best thing someone can do for me here is to take me away to a much quieter place. As an example, I like having some noise around me – because even deafening silence causes me sensory issues – but having the TV on, with dogs barking, humans talking, my brother watching YouTube on his phone – it is all too much. I take myself to my room and lay on my bed in the darkness waiting for the dizzying fog caused by the noise to leave my brain. 

Illustration of girl with noise around her

Overall, my point here is to be understanding. Every autistic person is different with a range of traits and autistic people, especially girls, are trying. Our brains have to work so much harder to fit in, and although at times we may seem frustrating and difficult, my friends know and love me as someone who thoroughly, excessively, enjoys Capri-suns, kinder buenos, and could tell you every single fact there is to know about Robert Pattinson. 

I adore my friends dearly, and I appreciate them for everything they do. 

Illustration of group of friends

If you have any queries or worries regarding autism, the best site to visit is here for help, or contact your GP.