Thursday, July 9, 2015

Why Autism Friendship is a Thing of Beauty

        There is beauty in friendships.  Friendships of all kinds, but there is a unique beauty in friendships with people on the Autism Spectrum.  The Doctor's best friend has Autism.  (For this post, I'll call him "the Friend," for his and his family's privacy.)

        Now, there are a few things you should know about my family and me before I go any further:
        1.  None of my children are on the spectrum.  They are all
        neuro-typical.  This is not a point of pride, just a statement of
        2.  I am not advocating for people with Autism.  I am woefully
        unqualified to do this.  Plus, I find it awkward when people try
        to advocate for "other" groups.  At best it comes across as
        patronizing, at worst, it comes across as offensive.  (You know,
        the "Be kind to the poor [fill in this blank with a random group]
        people.  You might be the only friend they have!"  Makes me
        want to hurt someone.)
        3.  I am also not advocating for parents of children with Autism. 
        They are the best advocates I know, and no one has asked me
        to advocate for them.  It, quite honestly, is not my place.
        4.  I AM advocating for my own children.  After all, they're the
        children I love best in the world, and the ones that I advocate
        for most naturally!

        With all that in mind, I want to give you the reasons that I am so thankful that the Doctor has a dear friend with Autism:
1.     Acceptance.  What could be better than someone who accepts you for who you are, without manipulating you into feeling like you need to change to be loved?  Well, that's what the Doctor has found in the Friend.  He has NOT ONCE ever made her feel like she's "less worthy" of his friendship.  He has never manipulated her into doing something she doesn't want to do.
2.     Another mom loves my child.  Along with #1, the Friend's mom LOVES my child.  (Well, all three of my children.)  She is in "the Doctor's corner" so to speak.  Take a moment to let it sink in how HUGE that is.  It's hard to find that within families, let alone friends.
3.     Total family acceptance.  The Friend not only cares for the Doctor.  He has accepted all three girls totally.  Fidget is often the recipient of his care.  I'll give you a quick story to summarize what this looks like.  The Friend's mom and I took all our kids to a movie one time.  Fidget got upset about half-way through, and the Friend loaned her his brand-new stuffed animal to comfort her.  He didn't make a big deal out of it, he just saw her crying and did what he could to make it better.
4.     Understanding and empathy.  This is another "story" one, because the Friend's actions explain it best.  One Sunday after church, the Doctor was upset because her paper tore.  So, he hunted down a new piece of paper for her.  No fuss, no big deal made, just saw a hurting friend and did what he could to fix it.
5.     He lends her his "brave."  The Doctor had always been cautious, often to the point of fearful.  (She is the oldest after all!)  She wants to know it's all "safe."  But the Friend isn't concerned as much about "safety."  (Sensory Processing Disorder and Autism often go hand-in-hand, and the Friend is no exception.)  He is very physical, and while he has NOT ONE TIME ever made the Doctor feel like a scaredy cat for not following, he has encouraged her to test her limits.  As a result, she is far more confident in her own skin, and in the world around her.  He has helped her overcome her fear simply by taking her along if she's willing, but being perfectly content to do things alone if she isn't.  How many friendships can make that claim?  Encouragement without manipulation.  It's a beautiful thing.
6.     This one is completely selfish -- drama-free friendship for me.  The Friend's mom and I have become close.  I don't have to feel bad when last-minute plans fall through, because she has learned an amazing amount of flexibility.  We rarely make "hard and fast" plans, because we have ten kids between us!  But if I need something, she's the first on my call list.  She can keep a confidence like no one else.  And she loves my kids.  If something comes up, she's not going to be "sharing" with 354 of her best friends on FB.  If I have to cancel, I can be honest, and disappointed, without worry that she'll think I don't care about my kids, or her, or whatever else.  She understands.  What a gift!
7.     The beauty of "messy life" lived honestly together.  Life in this fallen world is messy.  Always.  All too often, our "friendships" are based only on the best, most polished bits of us.  This breaks down quickly with a "special needs" family.  The beauty of this for me is this -- I don't feel like I need to keep up the "spit-shined" image, either.  When I am tired, or weepy, or struggling, I have a true friend who will listen, and pray for me.  And still keep caring.

        OK, I think this is long enough.  But I think it's time that NT parents advocate for our OWN children by fostering friendships with children on the spectrum.  Not because our children "can learn a lot" from the "patience" needed, nor because "those children NEED our children to befriend them."  (Seriously, I've seen that attitude several times, and it makes me SICK!)  Rather because, these friendships are an absolute gift, a treasure, rare and beautiful for the NT kids.  And their mamas.