10 Truths About Making Friends When You Have Autism

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People with autism share their thoughts on how it feels to make friends.

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Why the Deaf Community Is So Important to Me as an Autistic Person

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You know that feeling when you walk into a room and you instantly feel loved and accepted? For me, that is what the Deaf community is like. People don’t care that I sign a little awkwardly or that I can’t make eye contact. They love me regardless. That is what makes the Deaf Community such a special place. So many different personalities, backgrounds, opinions and different identities. Deaf Autistic. DeafBlind. Deaf and Disabled. Of course we don’t always get along 100 percent of the time. But we all have something in common — we cherish American Sign Language. It provides access to everything we need to know. We are able to tell amazing stories. We can describe, in depth, our day using only our faces.

I remember going to one of my first Deaf events. I was so nervous since I had only been signing for a few months and wasn’t confident in my signing abilities at all. I had spent the day with a couple of other Deaf friends and we had been signing back and forth. They drove me to the event. Once I got there, there was maybe 20 people just signing and I was completely overwhelmed. After a little while I started joining in on conversations and expanding. People kept asking “Did you grow up signing?” “Where did you get your sign name from?” “Do you need anything/need me to _____?”

It was so amazing that people thought I had grown up using ASL. That people wanted to know the story behind my sign name. People were actively asking how to accommodate my needs best. It was one of the first places where I could be myself, awkward signing and all. By the end of the event I was freely signing and having the most fun I’d ever had.

Being in such a loving and supportive environment has helped me grow. I have been able to discover more about myself. I have people who understand the same daily struggles as me. They don’t mind when I complain about how exhausting my day was because chances are theirs was the same. I have a whole web of experience and information. If one of my friends doesn’t know something, at least one of them will know someone who does. Being in the Deaf community is incredible and I am so lucky to be a part of it.

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I Don’t Want to Change You — I Want to Change the World for You

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To my son,

It’s not that I want to change you. No — I want to change the world for you. I want to change my world for you.

Son, remember that you are perfect as you are. It is humanity that is flawed in her understanding of the way a person should react to the world around them. It is humanity that has an ill-perceived idea of what “perfect” should look like, of what “perfect” should be.

Earlier this year, I explained to you that we were going to meet a special person who would hopefully help me to better understand you, and help me find the right tools to be the best parent I can be for you. 

I realized this feeling in my gut, this feeling I kept pushing aside, could no longer be ignored as we faced some challenges at home. I needed to embrace the idea of expanding our support team, but not just any team. Throughout our journey, I’ve always strived to work with a team you can relate to, a team you feel comfortable with, because after all, how can one expect to support a child when the child feels ill at ease with his support team?

Son, I want you to recognize that you are just so awesome, and trust me when I say awesomeness flows through your veins. Know that I speak the truth when I tell you I absolutely love the way you think.

Son, as I listened to the psychologist, it was as if the sun was shining upon me, a gleaming light that shone into a deep abyss — finally gifting the precious light needed for photosynthesis to take place within me. I was overcome with joy (and relief). Unbeknown to me, we had already started supporting you with the necessary therapies that would help you develop and thrive as a young child.

Asperger’s. Neurodivergent. Autism. 

What do these three words mean to me? Well, they help me better understand you. They empower me to parent differently, to step outside my comfort zone and to push the boundaries for you.

I can now advocate for your needs. But I believe in an ideal world, we would not be speaking about accommodations or acceptance because we would all just be allowed to be who we are.

And like I said to you in the early morning hours of July 19, you are perfect to me. Always remember this, and never question your ability, and never allow others to make you feel like you are less-than — because there is much more to you than what meets the eye. Know that I see you, know that I seek to understand you. Know that it is OK for us not to be OK at times. Understand that you are perfect in a flawed world. 

I get you more than you might realize, because I see in you glimpses of the child I once was, and reflections of the adult I am today. I get you, and I love you.

xoxo
Mom

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Why I'm Proud of My Special Interests

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At age 8, whenever someone would ask me about my interests, I’d respond with, “life during the 1800s.” Unlike other children, I found adventure through reading classical literature, and I marveled over the lifestyle of the age. Once, I surprised my mother by claiming, “I do not prefer Dickens.” My favorite TV show was “Little House on the Prairie.” I saved up my allowance to purchase an abundance of old-fashioned dresses. All my dolls lived the lifestyle one would during the Laura Ingalls days. The reality of the modern age brought despair to me, and I longed for a time machine that could allow me to sense the joy of the age outside of my mind’s eye. 

Now, it’s airships. Most assume I enjoy it because I am a “Steampunk” or simply a “Geek,” which may not be entirely false. What they do not realize is that I own notebooks full of my planning on how I may one day soar the skies as the captain of a small-sized zeppelin. 

I hear of people with wonderful-sounding interests all the time. It stretches from Leonardo da Vinci to Gothic fashion. They seem to find ways to use their special interests to create wonderful, magical things. They tend to know more about these interests than many other people do. There is sometimes a tendency to make fun of people who do not think the same way as “normal.” This finds its way to those with special interests. For example, instead of skateboarding, one child wishes to build his own jetpack. He knows all about the past and present history of them and some day will become their future. Yet if the child is called a “nerd” and “weird,” he might rethink his idea. The wonder of the future could be rewritten and fall away simply because one kid is not allowed to be creative. 

Special interests are a special thing, and I’m proud of them. They can lead you to places no one else dares to go. Interests can carry people toward ideas and an abundance of knowledge and creativity. Never doubt these special interests.

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Pieces of Advice for Employers Working With Someone on the Autism Spectrum

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The Mighty teamed up with Autism Society to ask our readers for one piece of advice they’d offer employers about working with people with autism. This is what they had to say.

 

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Before My Autism Diagnosis: Being the Little Girl Looking Out the Window

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If I could take a single snapshot of myself as a child, it would be of me as a little girl looking out the window, watching the children play. A child wishing to join in, but too afraid to step outside and ask, “Can I play?” Maybe if she had asked, they would have let her join in the circle. But repeatedly being a victim of bullying, she didn’t dare risk rejection. She maintained her distance on the sidelines where she felt safe.

She compensated the loneliness with retreating into a world of make-believe where she could be anybody she wanted to be. She made up a cast of characters who let her join their circle. In this world, she got to play the starring role. The little girl knew it was a world of her own imagination. And when she invariably got caught pacing back and forth, talking to herself, she’d bear the brunt of the heckling of other children and the bewilderment of adults.

I am on the autism spectrum and was only diagnosed recently at the age of 58. My diagnosis was a gift I shall treasure for the rest of my days. I know now what’s behind how I think, feel and act. Before the diagnosis, it was like walking in pitch-black darkness. The diagnosis was the lightbulb.

It was largely through working as a substitute teaching assistant that I came to the realization of being autistic. Sometimes I would cross paths with a child who reminded me of the little girl looking out the window. One of those times occurred in an elementary school gym while subbing for a P.E. aide. I was watching the children play in stations, each section being a different game. I noticed a third-grade boy standing next to me. I asked him why wasn’t he at one of the stations, and he shrugged his shoulders. I asked him, “How about basketball or tetherball, or jumprope, or hula-hoop?” He nodded “no” at all my suggestions. I asked him what he liked to do. He said, “Eat!” I could not keep a straight face.

This youngster was tugging at my heart strings. I knew what it was to just watch the other kids play. Instead of pushing him to shoot baskets or jump rope, I asked him if he’d like to take a walk with me. He agreed to that. As we went for our walk around the other kids playing, I asked him questions, such as what his favorite food was. He said “hamburger,” and that the hamburger place he liked best was “Mom’s.” I assumed he meant his mom’s homemade hamburgers were better than at any restaurant.

He pulled out his mom’s business card with a beaming smile on his face. It seemed to be of such comfort to him to have the card with her phone number in case he needed to call her. He let me see the card, and it was a hamburger restaurant. That explained to me why his mom’s hamburgers were the best and his favorite food.

I gave that child a little bit of time and attention I wished someone had given me when I was that little girl looking out the window. I believe I have been so blessed by God with my diagnosis and a job that helps me cope with that diagnosis. The past can’t be changed or relived. But my job gives me numerous opportunities to help any young ones who might struggle with what I struggled with and still do.

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