What my autistic son taught me about friendship

5 June 2015

Dear Friend,

According to research studies, people with close friendships are happier and healthier and ten friends seems to be the magic number. (Ten, I'd be lucky!) It is also thought that having good friendships can lengthen your life.

Living life as an expat can be very lonely at times. You can go through periods of, sometimes intense, homesickness. After ten years here, I experience it less but there are times when I really miss my amazing, fantastic friends.

I must admit that I took my friends for granted. I didn't realise just how special our relationship was until I moved to another country and tried to form new friendships. I am so lucky to have the type of friends with whom, you can sit in comfortable silence, roar laughing and cry uncontrollably. People who accept you, who get you, totally. I didn't realise how lucky I was. Sounds cheesy but in the UK my friends were my family.

It takes a long time to grow an old friend...

Now I am an expat, not only that, I am an expat married to a Dutchie. This means that I have a foot firmly in each camp but it also means that I don't quite belong to either...

When I moved to Holland I went to some local international groups to meet Expats. The problem is that speaking the same language or sharing a country of birth doesn't guarantee the click of friendship.

Social media has made it easier for me to keep in contact with my friends in the UK and feel part of their lives too. But it can also make us lazy friends, as it gives us the illusion of having actually been in touch. My Facebook habit was becoming an addiction and for me too much time on social media had a hint of loneliness... There is a degree of desperation in being the first to like a picture or comment on a post.

Good friends are like stars. You don't always have to see them to know that they are there...

Ok, let's be honest, as a special needs parent I have found it difficult to sustain my friendships because I hate feeling judged. I hate anyone judging my son's behaviour or indeed my parenting skills. I am fearlessly protective of my family!

Differences in opinion have lead to conflicts with friends that I have found very difficult to forgive or forget. Sometimes trust is broken, a judgement is made or the enjoyment is lost. When people are hurt and emotions come into play it is very difficult. I believe that is why there are so many chat rooms and social networks starting up specifically for special needs parents. We are looking for friendship, for support and importantly support from people who "get it".

Recently I read a comment on a social media site that said; How can I teach my son (autistic) about friendships when I am so obviously failing myself? Special needs families can feel isolated and alone. But I think this parent was looking at the problem from the wrong perspective.

What has my autistic son taught me about friendship?

1) Treat everyone as your friend.

Big lad thinks that everyone is his friend and doesn't exclude anybody.

I am guilty of choosing to make friends with people I think are like me. Similar age, intelligence, interests etc but aren't I limiting myself? My life is richer and I learn more from different people.

2) Talk things through honestly.

When the big lad has problems they need to be discussed straight away or they become huge issues. I have learned not to let small problems fester, as they become big ones. Be honest and open.

It is not very English to air our dirty laundry in public. It can be uncomfortable at first but is worth it in the long run.

3) Don't hold grudges.

When the big lad has a bad day we learn from it, then forget it and move on. We don't bring it up later on. Kids are great at this, they fight one day and are best mates the next.

Once a problem is sorted move on. After all, I don't want to spend everyday avoiding certain mums at school drop-off.

4) Keep your promises.

Big lad always keeps his promises. Rules are rules.

Be there. Don't let people down. Don't make promises you can't keep.

5) Trust people.

Trust is really important for the big lad. Without trust he can not function that is why the beginning of the school year with a new teacher is so challenging.

I am learning like my son to give people the benefit of the doubt as most hurtful actions are due to thoughtlessness not disregard for feelings.

6) Friendship should be unconditional.

With kids we hear, if you invite me to your party I'll be your friend.

What do adults do? It is more subtle but we do have certain expectations of our friends; sympathy, understanding, honesty, trust, enjoyment of each others company.

What is your deal breaker? Is it worth it?

7) Some friendships are special.

True friendship isn't about being inseparable, it's being separated and nothing changes...

8) Be open to new friendship.

I am always encouraging my boys to say hello, to introduce themselves to others, to ask kids if they'd like to join in. Perhaps I need to listen to my own advice?

Anyone fancy a cup of coffee?

Read more autism related posts here...

If you liked this post then please feel free to share on social media or drop me a comment. Thank you!
Lauren said...

I can relate to this SO much. My 3 year old has autism and we live away from family due to my husband being in the military. Very hard to walk into playgroups and such anyway, add having an autistic child just makes it that bit more difficult. I can still feel quite lonely at time and we have been here 18 months now. Thanks for sharing x #brilliantblogposts

An imperfect mum said...

Thanks for your comment Lauren, sometimes it just helps to know someone else is in the same boat. Well done for getting out to play groups, I know that can be hard!

Jenny Ripatti-Taylor said...

It must be hard to have others especially so called friends judge you. I wish every one would stop judging everyone on anything. Why do we judge in the first place? We are all different in our own ways and all parent different and believe different. I think as parents we should all support each other it's hard enough learning ourselves as we go through the various stages of life. So right on friendships here darling. Great post. Thanks for linking up to Share With Me #sharewithme

An imperfect mum said...

Thanks Jenny for your great comment! Nice to know I'm not the only one who feels we need to support each other more. Wouldn't the world be much nicer?

Tracey Williams said...

I am sorry that you have experienced conflict with some of your friends. That must have been so hard for you. I can definitely take on board some of the advice in your post. I am terrible at holding grudges when someone close to me has upset me - and it is so true about kids can be fighting one day and best friends the next. Hugs xx #TalkaiTuesday

Catie: Imperfect Mum said...

Thanks for your very thoughtful comment. I am terrible at holding grudges, definitely learnt behaviour from my family but my adopted dutch family are brilliant. They speak their mind, have a good shout and then just forget about it. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. I love it!

Silly Mummy said...

I imagine it must be difficult with anything like autism that is not immediately apparent to other people. I think if people can't actually see the particular special need, they won't allow for the possibility that your situation is perhaps not the same as theirs. For example, a child having an apparent tantrum or meltdown is a situation where people often feel inclined to judge the child and the parents, but how often does anyone stop to consider that the child could be autistic or have any number of behavioural problems or special needs that we don't know about? &, even when people do know, I don't think that necessarily translates as understanding and accepting that it does make the situation different. Such a shame that people can't try to be a little more understanding of each other's lives and challenges sometimes.

I really love the tips autism has taught you about friendship. Particularly the fact that Mario doesn't exclude people. & as someone who is terrible at meeting new people and dealing with social interactions, I really feel for you trying to form new friendships having moved abroad. #SSAmazingAchievements

Catie: Imperfect Mum said...

You always leave such brilliant comments and I really appreciate it. Thank you. I am so glad you enjoyed the tips. I am learning a lot in this process.

Coombe Mill said...

I really feel for you, I found it hard just coming to cornwall 13 years ago. I'd say it took me 2 years for this to really feel like home. I hope you get there

Catie: Imperfect Mum said...

I've been here 10 years and it is easier now than at the beginning. But there's nothing like a good chat with people who really know you, in your own language! Thanks for your comment.

Jeannette Cripps said...

As a fellow SN parent I was reading, nodding away and thinking about how I relate to people. Sometimes I'm too fearful that people will prejudge, they usually do, you can't always "see" a disability such as autism until a situation occurs.
My children have taught me how to get over a situation quickly, to ignore any whispers and to sometimes just smile, even if you want to cry inside at whatever has just happened.
Thanks for linking up with #SSAmazingAchievements

Catie: Imperfect Mum said...

Thanks Jeanette and great advice. Hubby and I are getting very good at nodding & smiling then giving each other that knowing glance. It helps to have someone to share things with! Thanks for hosting I really love your link! #SSAmazingAchievements

Jane Escapades said...

I need to take some of this advice. We moved out of area and friends have not happened easily. Your post also made me this of my nan. She married a Dutch man and moved to Holland after the war, it must have been hard for her then too #SSAmazingAchievements sorry I'm late x

Catie: Imperfect Mum said...

No worries Jane thanks for your comment.

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