14 Words to Consider When You Befriend My Son With Autism
Damn social media. I have such a love-hate relationship with it. I love that we can meet in this little community huddled in our very safe, comfortable corner in the internet universe and share our common concerns, triumphs and general bitch sessions. But I hate that social media is a regular reminder of how alone my son is, both in the real world and the social media one. And I hate that I am reminded of that while on the elliptical machine at the gym because that stupid machine is so boring I have to check Facebook.
I know that sometimes my son makes a conscious decision to be alone. Alone, after all, is easier. However, sometimes I believe he is alone because people, especially teenage people, don’t know what to do with “different” and rather than do the “wrong” thing, they choose not to do anything at all.
Most of my son’s fellow classmates adore him. They are kind, caring and genuine. But, they legitimately don’t know what to do after, “Hey Ryan” and neither does he. I don’t fault them, but, I can educate them so that one day they may see that if they try, if they make an effort, then there is no “wrong” thing.
So for you, teens out there who might want to be friends with my son, or maybe another teen with autism, here are 14 words you need to know to get it “right.”
Ask if he wants to go to the movies. Ask if he likes “Star Wars.” Ask if he loves pizza. Ask if he eats frozen yogurt. You need to ask in order to know.
Accept him just like he is. There may be some things he does or says that may not make sense to you, but they make sense to him. Accept it. Accept him. And maybe, once again, ask. Ask him why he does what he does, so then it will make sense to you.
Consider him. Include him. Think of him. If after school or rehearsal or the football game you are all going for pizza or frozen yogurt, even if it seems he prefers to be alone, we all like to be included, we all like to think, “Wow, they considered me!” “They included me!” “They thought of me!” Even if he chooses not to go, he will remember that you considered him.
Educate yourself about autism, but educate yourself about him. Inquire why he is so particular about food. Find out why routines are so important to him. Learn why “new” is hard for him. Discover why he loves Hollister t-shirts in gray and blue only.
Like any friend, my son might make a mistake. He might be brutally honest because he doesn’t know any other way to be. If your hair stylist went a little overboard with your latest “do” and it looks… um… bad, he might tell you. It’s not a personal attack, and although it may hurt your feelings, he is just being honest because being honest comes naturally to him. The truth might hurt a little, but, honesty is a great quality in a friend (and your hair will grow back).
6. Ask (again).
He may have said no every single time you asked him to join you, but keep asking. One time he might just say yes.
If you do ask him, if you do consider him, if you do include him and if he says yes, he may need a little space after a period of time. He will know when he needs that space and when he is ready to join you again.
It takes time for him to connect, to trust, so you need to give him some time. If you give him his time, I promise he is so worth yours.
He may need you to remind him about practice, rehearsal or where you are sitting at the football game (repeatedly). If he forgets, again, it’s not personal, it’s not that he doesn’t value your friendship, he just needs another reminder that will help him see that you considered him.
He loves memes. He loves to say lines from memes, movies and television shows and use them at just the right time, in just the right way. He was basically meme’ing and GIF’ing long before it was cool. He might show you a thing or two. But, you have to ask in order to understand.
He is very literal with language, so sometimes slang, sarcasm and abstract language will “go over his head.” If he looks confused or doesn’t respond when you ask him, “What’s up dude?” explain what you mean in a literal way, “Hey Ryan, what are you doing?” then he will get it — and you.
Remember that he is an individual not a collective disorder. He is Ryan, not autism.
Even after you ask, educate and consider, you still might not get him, but please still respect him. Chances are really good that he doesn’t quite get you either, but, he will always, always respect you.
Just be kind. Period. The end.
OK fine, it wasn’t the end. Here is one last tip: just trying to be his friend, even if you don’t get something right, you will never, ever be wrong.
We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.
Editor’s note: This story has been published with permission from the author’s son.