28 January 2019

Dear friend,

Yesterday I met someone new. During our conversation I shared that I had 2 sons and that my eldest had autism. She asked me:
Does he have any friends? 
This isn't the first time someone has asked me this question. The message that autistic people are unsociable and loners is out there.

When the big lad was younger, his friends were mostly the sons or daughters of my friends. It was easier to support him socially. We went to toddler groups a couple of times a week, swimming lessons and of course he came along with me to friends homes and played with alongside their children.

When he started school, he thought everyone was his friend but in reality he had one main friend. His teacher reassured me that everything was OK, he was not alone, he was being included.

Then birthday party season started and he found it hard to accept when he wasn't invited. I found this really hard too. Some adults made the right noises but then let us down. We all quickly discovered who our real friends were.

But he did have friends, friends with the same interests (namely computer games). The word spread that he was good at gaming and other kids soon wanted to play, to learn the tricks.  We set up a gamer room at home and friends came regularly to play.  Children called for him and he started to play outside and to attend a local youth club with a group of friends every week.

Ask my son about friendships and he will still tell you, everyone is his friend. In reality, friendships change, people move on and find new friends. Few friends are with us our whole lives. But change is difficult for the big lad and he remains loyal. A friend is a friend.

Problems arise when he doesn't understand why people behave in a certain way or when he fails to pick up on social cues or hints that neurtoypical children do. But friendship problems are common in all children and not restricted to autistic children.  

Yes sometimes autistic people do want to be alone, yes sometimes social situations can be a challenge. But autistic people shouldn't be isolated or lonely. Everyone needs a friend!

By labeling autistic children as loners who don't want friends we are simply pushing them further out of society. Surely we should instead be asking what we can do to better understand their needs, to include them more? 

Yesterday she asked me:
Does your son have any friends? 

Yes, thank you, he has lots!

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