When people ask me how autistic people can learn to make friends, my answer is always to become involved in activities that focus around special interests. Researchers led Robert Koegel at UC Santa Barbara created interest-based clubs that allowed autistic boys to develop strong friendships:
Koegel offered the example of a student with ASD who has a keen interest in computer graphics. The team created a graphic design club in which students would design logos for various companies and businesses. Because most of the students lacked the necessary expertise, they depended on their classmate with ASD to make the venture a success. "When he was able to interact on a topic in which he was interested, he was able to demonstrate more normal social behavior," Koegel said. "He not only made friends with his fellow members, he was elected club president."
Their findings mean that scientists may previously have been wrong that the areas of the brain related to social functioning are damaged in people with ASD:
According to Koegel, the findings are also significant because they indicate a higher degree of brain functionality than researchers had previously associated with ASD adolescents. "It has been commonly believed that the part of the brain related to social skills is so damaged that adolescents with ASD are incapable of normal social interaction," he said. "We demonstrated that not to be the case. Once you can motivate kids to try things, they make dramatic and rapid improvement, which shows the brain is not as damaged as first thought."
Lydia at Autistic Speaks returns from an extended absence by discussing autism and friendship:
I have a handful of autistic friends via the internet that have proved tried and true through my recent ordeals. Some of them speak, and several of them don’t, or prefer to type. Some of them need fairly intensive supports. They have varying levels of ability, disability, maturity, and so forth. These girls have taught me about true friendship. Why must it be such an unlikely source, a person with autism? When are we going to realize that people with autism make some of the most loyal friends?
Want to know what real friendship is?
Ask your local autistic person. Better yet, let her show you!
"The sad little tumor no one wants to go dress shopping with."
The latest episode of The Big Bang Theory (watch here) put thAutcast favorite Amy Farrah Fowler in a very Aspergian situation. Over-excited about being Bernadette's bridesmaid, she has made herself obnoxious. So Penny and Bernadette go shopping for dresses without her, and her heart is broken.
This sort of thing has happened to me dozens of times. It's a rare thing when people I like actually like me back. It makes me uncomfortable and I usually manage to sabotage it in the same ways Amy does.
I've done it by over-praising people ("Your skin is like alabaster. Do you even have pores?")
I've done it by sexualizing situations in ways that made people uncomfortable (Amy talks about bridesmaid rituals that involve "getting naked and washing each other.")
I've done it by focusing on one friend, and failing to notice another one who might actually be a better match for me, like Amy does with Bernadette.
I've done it by shutting down and hiding. Although I do not have a harp.
I've done it by over-reacting ("It's like Sesame Street says. "One of these things is not like the others. One of these things should die alone.)
I've even done it by getting drunk in a parking lot, because that's where the cool people hang out.
In short, this was a very funny episode that I think a lot of aspies will relate to. The scene in which Sheldon and Amy negotiate cuddling is probably the funniest, but the interaction between the women rings true. It goes beyond Amy's surface in a show the show doesn't always.
What to do when Aspies want to connect but don't want to offend. . .
Matt at Dude I'm an Aspie has expressed a basic truth about people with autism in this recent strip called Willing: we need help knowing who to reach out it, and permission to do it. For many of us, it's not that we don't want friends-- it's that we can't tell who wants to be our friend and who doesn't. We don't reach out, because we fear both offending others and being rejected.
The solution suggested is elegant, and one I want you to think about, both in your own autistic life and in working with others who have autism: you have to find ways to give people permission to connect. If you want friends, you have to find ways to communicate that. If you want autistic people to have success when we do reach out, you have to help us figure who is interested.
This is one I'd consider sharing with teachers and other people who work with us-- as usual, Matt has gotten a lot of wisdom into a few words and pictures.
Lydia at Autistic Speaks expresses perfectly some of my frustration when trying to communicate or form relationships:
A problem that seems to keep cropping up with people who know me, even those who know me very well, is that they want to be friends with me until I... get autistic on them. Until I misinterpret them and think they're frustrated with me when they're not. Until I melt down in public. Until I can't work, can't go anywhere alone without panicking, until I communicate something very poorly. Then, they get angry with me, and their words can be harsh, and it's very upsetting. It ends friendships... many.
People say they want to listen to people with autism until it actually impairs us in any way. Then they use our impairments as an excuse to ignore us. I would guess that it happens to all us every day.
Lydia goes to define how autism shapes her experiences:
This is my autism.
My autism is being too honest and hurting feelings.
Having so many words but limited ability to express myself, some times more than others.
Seeing the world, and people, in black and white.
Not understanding pretense and getting upset with people who use it overtly.
Having ridiculous anxiety, especially in social situations. . .
It goes on, and it describes my autism, too.