Developing Healthy Relationships For Young Adults With Autism And Learning Differences SQUOOSH

Developing Healthy Relationships for Young Adults with Autism & Learning Differences

By Pilar Page, MSW and Mike Vaughn, M.Ed. of the College Internship Program (CIP)

Social Skills and Healthy Relationships

Everyone longs for healthy, stable and enjoyable relationships. This could be in the form of companionship, or even through friendship. However, developing and maintaining these relationships require applying proper social skills.

When you think of social skills, think of the groundwork required to effectively communicate with others. Through healthy communication, young adults can effectively develop healthy relationships within their community.

At CIP, we help our students learn and practice various skills in order to effectively communicate in their relationships, as well as build trust with each other. When asked about social skills and relationships, two of our young adults in a relationship highlighted the importance of practicing theory of mind and listening skills to develop trust with each other.

Theory of Mind

Theory of Mind requires us to be mindful of the perspective of others by tracking what others are thinking and feeling. It starts with understanding the beliefs, desires, and intentions of others. Through this understanding, one can better understand and predict the actions of others, as well as outcomes.

Of the two young adults we spoke to, one shared that you can practice theory of mind in a relationship by “thinking about what the other person wants in the relationship, and what they need from a mate.” The other one expressed that “understanding their partner’s personal and life-goal values is important to knowing them. You have to keep up with what is important to them which helps you stay on the same page. Trying to know or imagine the day he went through helps in knowing his state of being, and how he may be feeling. If he’s had a rough day, then I can be sensitive to that.” Theory of Mind focuses on understanding others within the relationship.

Listening Skills

Communication plays a vital role in understanding others. However, for one to effectively communicate in a relationship they will have to develop listening skills. Listening is one of the key social skills required for almost all interactions. The focus should always be on hearing and understanding others. When asked about listening in relationships, one of the young adults expressed that it is important to “take turns when communicating.” This provides an opportunity for both parties to listen and speak. This includes giving information in doses, and “paying attention to the other person’s body language while listening. This helps with staying in the moment.” Staying in the moment, when listening, is critical to strong social skills. This helps to ensure equity in listening to one another. If one does not understand the other, always seek clarity. According to the other young adult, “smiling, and deliberately using a soft tone when asking to repeat or rephrase goes a long way.” Being able to really hear what the other is saying is truly a valuable communication skill.

Developing Trust

The ultimate goal of all relationships is to develop trust. Trust is essential for any relationship to thrive. It requires mutual commitment between all parties. It requires all to be mindful of the perspective of others and to actively listen to others. Through communication, and applying the foundational social skills, one can develop trust. It could be as simple as providing a safe space for one to confide in you, or just simply keeping a conversation confidential. According to one of our young adults, “there are things that should be kept confidential, personal issues discussed in therapy and with a doctor are private and only disclosed if really necessary. We don’t need to know everything about the relationship.” Trust is a combination of understanding the relationship, what the other person needs, and to best understand one has to be willing to listen.

By practicing these skills, our students are able to create lasting bonds, whether that’s a lifelong friendship or something more. 

For more information about CIP’s programs across the US, click here.

Pilar Page, MSW is the Program Director at CIP Berkeley. CIP is a national transition program for teens and young adults with autism and other learning differences. Mike Vaughn, M.Ed. serves as the Program’s Social Skills Coordinator.

For more information about CIP’s programs across the US, click here.