I’ll go back to the flexible routine series of posts. I wanted to take the opportunity to write about this since in the previous post (Making Routine Flexible d) Chris & his Dad routine) I talked about the playground and kids or parents making an effort. Like I’ve said before: “It doesn’t scare me that he probably won’t have a friend. I know that if he wanted one, he would get himself one. He would want to go play with them – like he does sometimes – he would want to watch movies with them, or engage in their activities – like he does when he wants to. It doesn’t scare me because he’s happy doing solitary things, and he’s happy doing group things – when he wants to.” (Autism Every Day Part 2)
But here’s a few things you should know when befriending someone with Autism or with your existing autistic friends, or some knowledge you could pass down to your kids:
1) Don’t assume they don’t understand friendship: I have explained the communication challenges and their trouble with social interactions. But, again and again, that doesn’t apply to everyone with Autism. Some people with autism are exceedingly social, while others are significantly more introverted. Friendship can be defined in many different ways and at it’s core it’s based on mutual interest and respect, shared values and negotiated boundaries. Especially in the earlier years, you just want someone to play with.
2) Be patient. Don’t try to change them into someone you, or society, consider acceptable. They are who they are, and you cannot make them conform to silly, unrealistic societal ideals. Maybe they’ll drive you to change yourself, which means you will be more open-minded, more patient, kind and accepting – now what’s so bad about that? Don’t feel embarrassed by their individuality, embrace it. Feel embarrassed for the people who don’t have the capacity, or knowledge to understand them.
3) Communicate clearly. Use gestures, pictures and facial expressions, don’t expect an immediate response – give your friend extra time. For your kids, try to introduce technical games when with an autistic friend; puzzles, legos usually do the trick.
4) Schedule your plans. Make sure to include that someone with autism, because they might not know how to ask. Include your children in programs where they are paired with autistic kids and set up dinner or movie nights. This doesn’t just benefit the kid with autism, so don’t look at it as doing someone a favour. Your child will learn responsibility, it will learn that being different isn’t bad, they won’t grow up narrow- minded, they’ll be educated about it, they’ll gain skills that will help them develop later on in their lives, socially and personally. Discrimination isn’t born folks, it’s taught. Once they learn, from a young age to interact, they can then interact outside those structured times. Real friendships are someone to sit with at lunch and a friend in gym class, as long as they are not seen as outcasts in school, they won’t get bullied.
5) Respect their uniqueness. People with autism are often unusually sensitive to sounds, sights, touch, taste and smells. High-pitched sounds like fire alarms may be painful, scratchy fabrics intolerable. Respect how they react to such disturbances. Don’t assume people with autism are intellectually disabled just because they can’t speak properly or flap their hands when they get anxious. Learn to understand these queues and help them through it.
6) Having an autistic friend is not a project, it’s not community service. If you see it that way, or pass it on to your children in that manner – don’t bother. It’s not a charity; they definitely don’t need your pity. Also, don’t ‘look past the autism’ as autism is integral to who they are. Their identity is shaped by it whether we like it or not. You can’t look past it because there won’t be anything to look at, don’t compare theirs to your experiences because there’s no comparison; much like two people who aren’t autistic and two people who are. Look at your friendship with an autistic person is a positive, healthy experience, as opposed to a charity project. Change your perceptions of the person based on widespread stereotypes of autism or other disabilities.
7) Stand up for them!!! Bullying, abuse and other types of violence are prevalent in the lives of autistic people – from childhood AND adulthood. If you see someone teasing or picking on an autistic peer, take a stand. You’d be surprised at how many people remain passive to bullying. I personally judge people by their inactions rather than their actions. Remove the stigma that society instils in autism.
Educate yourself and your children about autism, embrace it and make it part of your life. Be aware of it and make the world a place where your child can make a difference. A place where our children can make a difference. Learn about autism and remove the stereotypes of society to make the worldwide community a place where everyone is accepted.