For people unfamiliar with Autism, when they think about it, I believe they usually think about the physical aspects of this complicated disorder. Yes, people with Autism make physical motions that others can see like stimming or trying to nonverbally communicate. But there are also emotional and social issues involved. For people with Autism, especially kids and teens, one of these struggles is the well-known idea of a stereotypical “social life.” This is something that is on most kids and teens’ minds but with Autism I experience this in a whole different way.
Being social has always been a challenge for me. One harsh but very true reality for me is that I don’t have that many friends. I can think of one friend that I have. I’m not going to say his name but he is my best friend. We met in fourth grade and became best friends in sixth grade. He also has social issues. This is one major thing that we both have in common. I can relate to him and he can relate to me. We were in the same elementary and middle schools, but now we are in different high schools. Therefore, my social life at high school is virtually nonexistent.
When I talk about “friends,” I have my own way that I think about the meaning of that word. I think that many teenagers say that their friends are their classmates, their neighbors, their actual friends, their boyfriend/girlfriend, people that they socialize with, etc. I don’t think that way. For me, it’s kind of like a social hierarchy. After reading, check out the visual at the bottom. On the top there are my friends, followed by my family and religious friends, and then my acquaintances and classmates. Sometimes I can’t tell if someone and I are “friends.” For instance at my temple all of the teens are close, but I don’t know if we’re friends. (Disclaimer: If you are a teen at my temple, please don’t feel offended in any way about this. I just can’t tell the difference between a friend and an acquaintance or classmate). I can see some of these people saying we are friends and maybe some not. I’m just not sure! I really hope that most say yes. This is one of the daily struggles for me.
During school lunch period, I used to just walk around by myself. Since my friend isn’t at my school I feel lonely. I knew that I had to do something about this so I applied and was hired as a cashier at my school’s cafe. This job has allowed me to interact with more people but you cannot ignore the reason why I applied for the job: loneliness. I have a message for people at schools.
To teenagers with Autism: You are not alone. Don’t feel that you are the only one that feels these emotions because that is not true. Other kids struggle like you do!
To “typical” kids at school: I challenge every single one of you to welcome a special needs kid to eat lunch, have a conversation, or sit with you. Look for those kids who are walking around or sitting by themselves.
To teachers: Try to arrange friendships and conversations. The last time that a teacher helped me interact with someone was when I met my friend in sixth grade. Just keep in mind that this act can possibly create a friendship that will last a lifetime!