This is a touchy topic…a hot button conversation…
But I’d like to talk about it in context…
Do you know how hard it is for an autistic person to make friends?
Let’s talk about the process of making friends first. You have to get up the courage to talk to someone first. That can be easy or tough, depending on your nature as an introvert or an extrovert. But the key is to find something you have in common.
Then you have to be able to make small talk. Sometimes it is around that thing you have in common. But it is a tougher proposition if you haven’t figured that part out yet. You may start with the weather, big local news, or the latest sports scores.
It’s really like dating. You go through a feeling out process. You try to find someone you enjoy being around. You find someone you can have conversations with. You find someone that passing time with feels like fun instead of a chore.
Eventually, you can build that friendship. You talk about deeper things. This person is another sounding board in your life. This is another person that can hold you accountable. They’re not just friendly with you. They are REAL with you. Eventually, you move up to the status of BEST FRIEND. You are thick as thieves. Those are awesome types of relationships to have.
Let’s add a layer on this. When an autistic person wants to make friends, there is often difficulty in the grey area. We often go at just a small drip to make sure the pipes don’t freeze, or we go full bore. Going full bore is how you will often see an autistic kid going. Yes, this will create some awkwardness at times. But many times, other kids haven’t gotten the learned behavior of shutting out differences. As autistic kids get older, you will see them be less outgoing because, unfortunately, they’ve learned that the world doesn’t accept them for who they are. They feel shut out. They feel rejected. They feel not wanted. (Yes, I realize some autistic people do live in their own head and don’t detect this behavior, but some do.) It can be demoralizing to be rejected. So there is a learned behavior to push away and to not engage.
Yes, there are autistic extroverts. I am one of them. But the introvert tendencies that happen are not just self-preservation for physical and mental health. They are learned behavior from the standpoint of bruised ego and hurt feelings…things that no one realizes has happened because it is not often we tell anyone. We end up learning that others don’t want to hear our problems because they aren’t classified as problems in others’ minds.
I’ve had good/best friends in different seasons of life. Unfortunately, they’ve all moved on to something else. The friendships never deepened to the point of making lasting bonds. I have plenty of acquaintances. There are plenty of people who are friendly, and I try to return that friendliness every chance I get. There are people who are always concerned about if I’m having a good day and how I am doing, for various reasons.
But let’s be honest…
For as hard as it is for any person to make a new friend, I as an autistic person have to work three times as hard as the next person. I’m not just overcoming that hump of making a connection. I’m having to make sure I don’t register as awkward to others. I’m not allowed to be myself because others have a hard time seeing through pre-conceived notions of what behavior from a person should be.
Making friends as an autistic person is a tough as being that good television show with the genius story lines that gets axed by the network after one season. You never get a chance to see the layers. You never get a chance to see the story unfold.
But why do I have to work so much harder than everyone else?
I don’t write this seeking pity. I don’t write this begging for friends. I write this to be open. I write this so I can keep myself healthy. I write this to be real with myself. Many times as I write this, I’ve asked myself if I really want to blow this lid away. Frankly, I do. I do it in the name of helping others understand. If this is a battle for me, you don’t know how many more people face this same battle. And if you are facing this battle, you are not alone.
Also published on Medium.