It seems like the preteen years are tough for everyone, and even more so for autistic kids.
I had no friends for a while in middle school. I remember classmates talking to me out of pity – I could tell it was out of pity – and I remember savoring those crumbs, even though the same sort of attention with the same condescending attitude would have offended me a few years earlier.
I think the most important thing in that situation, more important than actually making friends, is holding on to the hope that things will get better. Like, if I knew for a fact that I’d have no friends for half a year, and then would meet some lifelong friends, how would I have spent those first few months? Probably more on hobbies, and less on self-deprecation.
And it was through hobbies that I eventually made friends. Some were in person, and some were online – both were equally valuable. I found them not by looking for friends, but by focusing on what I loved… and discovering who else did too.