Asperger’s Syndrome and Making Friends
Friendship is a gift that needs work and skill. For some, making friends is easy. They are socially aware, comfortable with new situations, able to interact with different individuals. Friends make life more enjoyable. They keep us entertained, they help us with challenges, they protect us from those that may not be so kind.
Not everyone is so lucky. Those with Asperger’s Syndrome, like my son, are not always able to make friends. For him, it’s not for a lack of interest. He wants friends. He craves company to share in his interests. Let me stress HIS interests. He can’t enjoy other people’s interests. That’s a curse of Asperger’s. He doesn’t mean to be self-absorbed, he has a problem with what experts call the theory of mind. It means that he isn’t aware that other people have ideas that differ from his own. He doesn’t notice when other kids are bored of doing what he wants to do. Even when they say that they want to switch activities, my son often can’t change gears. He’s lost many friends that way.
The great thing about my son is how much of a “typical kid” he is. He was able to mainstream at school for several years. All of his friends were “NT’s” (neuro-typicals as my husband and I like to call them.). But as he gets older, the challenges of making and keeping friends gets harder. Children start to notice and become less tolerant of differences. Social pressure starts to dictate who is cool and who is not. Trying to become friends with one child may mean having to give up another. This is all part of normal childhood. We all had kids who didn’t want to be our friends. Our feelings got hurt and we questioned what was wrong with us. If we were told we were to bossy or too silly we might have tried to adjust our behaviors.
Asperger’s prevents children from being able to do that. They may know that they are different, they may even know why, but they can’t change it. My son would be so happy if he could still be friends with all of these boys. He knows that they no longer wanted to hang out with him but he can’t get himself to play the different activities that they like to do. (He told me it’s not called playmates anymore because he is too old for that!)
I have put a lot of the responsibility on my son, but the truth is friendship is a two way street. Both parties need to be able to give and take. A little more tolerance on the part of the other children would go a long way. Recognizing that my son needs a few extra reminders about switching gears to try what they want would allow him the chance to find a new interest and a way to make new friends. It’s a challenge to the NT’s. Can they overlook the difference to see the great kid my son is? He is a loyal friend, sweet, kind and very funny. You just have to be willing to work at the friendship. Because friendship is a gift that takes work.