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Autism: Redefining Friendship

21 Dec

As a child, it was my brother and cousins, first of all. Not unusual, only ‘playing’ for me, mostly meant following along, and doing what they did (often in tears, as I was often overwhelmed.) There was also the eldest daughter of my next door neighbour – 3 years younger than I was. We played together at home, but she ignored me when we were at school.

Still, for me, that is what ‘friendship’ was – people who didn’t mind me ‘tagging along.’ Until they did mind, and once more I found myself lost and alone. At school, I was pretty much always alone, and uncomfortable, and out of place. School was a difficult place to be, and though in the later years I was able to find ‘friends’ who would not send me away, it never really got easier to be there.

Again, I pretty much just tagged along, and did what they did. It was difficult, if not impossible, for me to come up with ideas on my own – and I was almost always uncomfortable. Friendship was hard. Not something to look forward to, but rather, something to be endured.

I am not saying that I didn’t enjoy my time with those friends, only that the entire time I was with them, I was shaking with stress and fear. It was a relief to escape and find myself (mostly) alone.

Only I never really liked to be alone in those days. My own company, with my constant flashbacks, and deep routed fears, was as hard on me as being with others in a crowd.

So how did I get through it? I latched on, almost obsessively, to my boyfriends, and had meltdowns over being separated. Not healthy, I know, but it was a rather difficult time for me.

In my early twenties, I met a couple of friends through my church. Mostly we went places together out of town. Long drives, lots of talking (it is easier to talk in a vehicle, when I am not required to look at people.) I enjoyed the time, yes, but I was also constantly shaking, and exhausted from the interaction.

And that is what I would have defined friendship as: People who enjoy doing things together.

Only those friends moved away, and the majority of my contact with others came from my husband and son. Anything beyond that caused me a lot of struggle, and eventually I gave up trying to find more ‘friends.’

Whenever anyone asked, I would say “I have no friends,” and I fully believed it.

And then there was my son. As a child, I ran a daycare, and so he always had other children around. He didn’t exactly play with them, but he played next to them, and that was enough. He had a couple of friends when he was young, but mainly because those children struggled to make friends also. Some were unpredictable, and would hurt my son with no provocation. It was their own issue, but my son learned to fear them, and no longer chose to spend time them. Understandable.

As a teen, he found a couple of good friends, who enjoyed the same activities as him – video games. Again, they never played together, but side by side, and they seemed to enjoy that. And then his friends moved away.

For several years, I have been considerably concerned about his lack of what I would call ‘friendship.’ He, however, always protested that he does have friends, and he does ‘visit’ with them online. I was not convinced.

And then people learned about my Aspergers, and started to invite me out – trying to form friendships. I appreciate the gesture, however, in those moments I came to the realization that my definition of friendship was being redefined. Those visits, as had all of my visits in the past, were stressful, exhausting, and took many days to overcome.

As I spoke to old ‘friends’ online, and very much enjoyed those conversations, I began to understand my son’s point of view.

I now know that I do have friends. I have found them where I didn’t see them before – in my husband, in my son, and in online friendships with people who really ‘get’ me. Perhaps I do not need more than this. Perhaps my son’s ‘friends’ are actually that, and are enough for him.

It looks different, but this works for us.

It is good to know.

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