A Little Understanding Goes a Long Way for Me as a Young Woman With Autism

The music could be heard from the outside of the building, the lights were multicolored and flashing and the crowd was huge and full of life. Shortly after walking in, I turned to my friend and said, “this whole place smells like fleeting comfort zones.” She agreed with me and laughed, because she knew exactly what I meant.

As someone on the autism spectrum, like many others, I’ve experienced exclusion and isolation from my peers. I’m naturally outgoing, energetic and social. However, I struggle with inhibition of socially inappropriate behaviors, sensory difficulties and inflexibility. As I’ve gotten older, things have greatly improved, however I’m still quite different than the typical 20-and-a-half-year-old woman. Making and maintaining relationships is difficult for me. I’m selective about who I form attachments to. I’m still not entirely sure what the selection is based on; it seems out of my control.

I’m a therapist and I work with children on the autism spectrum. I’ve recently become close with some of my coworkers. Thinking about it, what better place could there be to find a friend? While autism isn’t all of who I am, it’s a big part of me. It affects my behavior, the things I say and do. It affects my perception and thought processes. My ideal friend is someone who’s aware of these facts. The company I work for only serves people on the autism spectrum; all of our training, experience and education is on autism.

So when my friend had a bunch of us over to hand-make costumes before we went out dancing, I wasn’t nervous about misunderstanding the multi step instructions. “Hey Kaelynn, first grab the felt squares, next trace the shapes you want, then cut them out. Let me know when you’re finished and we’ll look at the next part.” Like many on the autism spectrum, following multi step instructions is difficult for me. When it’s stated in a clear, concise manner, I’m more likely to be successful.

And as the comfort zones fled the building, all that was left was excitement and possibly a small amount of nausea. My friend helped me talk to cute boys, and showed me how to swing dance with them.

Autism is a huge part of who I am, but that night, I was just any other girl, and it felt really good. I was a girl without even the slightest trace of communication deficits. I momentarily freed my mind from the rigidity of my normal nightly routine, (that certainly didn’t involve going dancing) and most importantly, I was a girl with understanding friends.

It wasn’t long ago that I still had little interest in friendships. Up until very recently, I did not have close friends. I didn’t have the skills to build and maintain relationships, nor was I overly interested in gaining them. (It’s a lot of work!) As I’ve gotten older, I see the value in friendships, and the value in taking interest in another person’s life. It’s amazing how far a little understanding can go.

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