Have you ever thought about the true impact of friendships on our quality of life? Friends keep us safe from a host of negative life outcomes.
Having even just one or two close friendships can prevent many of the negative outcomes associated with not having friends.
Now, imagine that you were unable to make and keep even one friend. You might feel isolated, rejected, anxious, or sad on a daily basis. You might be unable to imagine the joys of friendships that other people experience ,and you may not even recognize the negative impact that a lack of meaningful relationships has on your life. Individuals who have challenges with social communication and interaction may experience these feelings regularly.
Teens and young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often find themselves socially isolated or rejected. This is often aggravated by a lack of community connections and friendships that are taken for granted by typically developing persons. The lack of social connections can result in peer rejection, poor social support, and social isolation. Individuals with ASD aren’t the only group affected. Teens and young adults with ADHD, depression, anxiety, or other social challenges may face similar difficulties.
New research shows that the general population may need just as much help with their social skills in relationship to making friends. A recent study found that 30% of millennials age 23-38 reported feeling lonely, and 22% of these individuals reported having no friends at all (https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2019/8/1/20750047/millennials-poll-loneliness)
Social deficits can become much more pronounced in adolescence and adulthood because the complexity of social communication requirements increases dramatically during this period of development. The need for understanding social cues and ‘hidden’ social rules rises dramatically as we mature into adults. Those of us who are successful social communicators have all experienced this. Awkward social moments in middle and high school, college, and careers as we learn to navigate new social contexts.
Typically we learn these social skills by observing and modeling our families, and watching our friends and communities interact with each other and with us. With the move towards more interaction in online communities versus real life, this nuanced way of learning has become significantly more difficult. We all learn differently as individuals, and learning in this fuzzy way where we just have to ‘figure it out’ may not work for everyone. Social skills may need to be taught explicitly and directly.
We know the negative impacts that a lack of friendships can have on quality of life, and we know how important these friendship connections can be for improving outcomes. We also know that these social skills are learned implicitly, and that this is becoming increasingly difficult as we move from our real world into the online space. So how do you develop the skills needed to develop valuable friendships?
You could just go for it. You can push yourself out of your comfort zone, join a community group, mixer, or meetup, and see where it takes you. You can try to make friends at your middle or high school, college or vocational program, or job. You can recognize the communities that you are a part of and meet people there. But if you don’t have foundational social communication skills, your attempts at making and maintaining meaningful connections will be futile.
Individuals with social challenges may benefit from having these basic social skills taught to them directly and explicitly. The PEERS program is a highly structured group based social skills training program that teaches the basic skills necessary to create, maintain, and manage relationships. Founded at UCLA (https://www.semel.ucla.edu/peers), the program was created with the most current research in the field. It is ecologically valid - based on the social skills that people actually do, not just what we think we should do. The program incorporates caregivers and families, so that skills will generalize outside of the program. Additionally PEERS has a stringent participant selection and assessment criteria, as to ensure that each participant is placed with an appropriate learning group based on their specific needs.
Life is truly better with friends, and our goal is to help anyone struggling with social deficits to learn the skills necessary to create, maintain, and manage friendships for life, and to improve individual and community quality of life. Check out our services page for more information regarding our specific programs, and if you’re ready to get started, let’s chat today! (https://www.slpsocial.com/contact)