The importance of friends in Autism

I’ve often found the concept of friendship quite complicated. So many people try to define it with inspiring quotes such as “a friend is someone running to you when everyone else is running away” or “a friend helps you move, a true friend helps you move bodies.”

Just about the only thing close to being as important as family (in some people’s case, it’s even more important than family) is a good solid friendship. Quite often, in certain circumstances, friends will be there for you even when family won’t.

The point of this is that when it comes to Autism, at least in the case of my own son, the concept of friendship is so much more complex than that, yet… extremely simplistic at the same time.

To watch my son at school, you see all of the children kind of play side by side but there is not a lot of actual playing together. It’s almost clinical in the way that the children go here, go there, do this and do that as though they’re only vaguely aware of each others existence.

But they are aware, I could argue even more aware of each other than children in a ‘regular’ classroom might be. You can ask any one of them what the other children are doing and they know, they know what each other likes and dislikes.. they know who they like more than the others.

One child in my son’s class is “lower functioning” than the others and so he doesn’t talk, he gets aggressive sometimes with a push or random hair pull (far less since he started he started in September) but obviously, he’s not one of the children that my son identifies as a friend. The others are.

He gets excited when his friends birthdays are coming up even though they spend their birthdays at separate tables, doing separate things, eating things separately.

Doing something together – Not what is important

For my son, doing something together is not what is important. Doing something together leads to conflicts, leads to him possibly losing (if it’s a game)… he, and his friends in his class, are very happy knowing that each other is there, even if seated at separate tables. And when one child isn’t there, Cameron tells me about it. If it’s a friend that he particularly likes, he may even be disappointed or sad.

Familiarity

This is one of those things that builds a level of friendship but doesn’t create nor define the friendship. Keep in mind, this is from the point of view of my son… but he can consider someone a friend from the moment he meets someone. Primarily because he has no reason to think they’re not a friend. They have not done anything wrong to him, so I guess the old “innocent until proven guilty” motto is what he goes by. And rightly so.. children should know not to take candy from strangers but shouldn’t have had to deal with anything traumatic enough to make them believe that people are out to get them in some way. Why wouldn’t they like people until given a reason not to?

So easily defeated

When the children do play a game together, the adults over-seeing the games tend to try to make it as fair as possible, whether it’s their teachers or us parents. Everyone gets a turn to win. But that’s not always how it works out, there isn’t always an adult there or someone just doesn’t get their turn to win, for what ever reason.

It’s at moments like these where my son will not only break down but remain in a very miserable funk for the rest of the day as he declares to the world that no one will ever be his friend ever again… no one lets him win.

This can happen for many reasons, such as not sharing, not listening to his wishes/demands and so forth… a friend that isn’t doing what he thinks as the friendly thing to do immediately sends him into a tantrum filled tirade about how he’ll never have friends again.

And to think that some doctors still try to convince me that people with Autism are emotionless.

Easily abandoned

Sometimes he doesn’t feel like he’ll never have a friend again, sometimes he’s all too eager to throw away what ever friend he does have the moment he’s mad at them.

Now, this is more of a “every child goes through this” thing than it is an Autistic trait, but it still is worth mentioning… mostly just because us parents know it’s cute.

Your child does something wrong, you send them to their room or for a time out and they storm off yelling “That’s it, you’re not allowed to be my friend anymore!”

You try not to let them hear you chuckle because this is very serious to them. In the case of Autism, perhaps even more so because as I have mentioned, friendships are so very important.

Conclusion

All too often I read or hear about people saying how their children with Autism can’t make friends, or are constantly heart broken about not having friends or the worst one… are incapable of having friends.

In many cases, it is true that some of these people do not have friends, or lose friends and so forth but also, in many other cases, it is part of the overly complex nature of the simplicity that is involved.

I don’t profess to know how it is for you or your children, every individual is very different. What I can tell you though, is that friendship is extremely important in my son’s life… so important that if he’s mad at you, you don’t get to be his friend, if his friend isn’t friendly, he’s lost all hope on friendships, if a friend isn’t there, he’s sad.

If I wasn’t able to be in his school from time to time, if I wasn’t able to hear from his teachers and the parents of his classmates, I might not know how serious and how not serious some of the things he says are.

Next time I hear a doctor tell me that people with Autism are emotionless, or unable to have real friendships, I’ll have some words for them… clearly those doctors either don’t deal with people that have Autism or they aren’t paying enough attention.

About Stuart Duncan

My name is Stuart Duncan, creator of http://www.stuartduncan.name. My oldest son (Cameron) has Autism while my younger son (Tyler) does not. I am a work from home web developer with a background in radio. I do my very best to stay educated and do what ever is necessary to ensure my children have the tools they need to thrive. I share my stories and experiences in an effort to further grow and strengthen the online Autism community and to promote Autism Understanding and Acceptance.

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One Response to The importance of friends in Autism

  1. Big Daddy February 22, 2011 at 5:11 pm #

    Ahh. Friendships. My boy wants friends but seems incapable of behaving in a way that would make it possible. I try teaching as best I can but these skills are difficult to teach. He keeps trying and we keep helping.

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