Image shows pink-haired hacker girl sitting next to red-haired woman with a lightbulb between them.

Friendships and autistic children: A conversation between autistic friends

by Leia Solo and Briannon Lee

10:52 Leia Solo
I’ve noticed there is a lot of concern amongst parents about their autistic children making friends. They worry that they don’t seem interested in other kids, or they can’t seem to play with them in ways that ‘typical’ kids do, or they have really different interests. Friendship seems to be a pretty big concern.

10:53 Briannon Lee
I used to worry about these same things myself, and spend a lot of time trying to make friendships work for one of my children too

10:54 Leia Solo
Me too. Lately though, I’ve been thinking about my own history of friendships, which is pretty horrible and also about our friendship, which is pretty wonderful, and realising that maybe autistic people just do friendship differently.

10:57 Briannon Lee
Yes! There is something very different about how I FEEL in friendships with autistic people, and especially our friendship. And I’ve been reflecting lately about why that is.

10:59 Leia Solo
I think lots of things are different about it. The pace was much slower to start with. Almost like a long, slow courtship! And the medium was different. It was almost exclusively through instant messaging for about 6 months. By the time we met up in person, I already felt so strongly connected to you.

11:03 Briannon Lee
We met online, through a mutual interest that we briefly hit at the same time. And we did that thing we do where we enthusiastically jumped in to DOING something together (let’s set up a local facebook group -OK. Great!) and the friendship then developed slowly afterwards.

And like you said almost exclusively online. Even though we lived 15 mins away from one another at the time

11:05 Leia Solo
And when we do meet up, the social rules are different. Basically, we can be really honest and forget all that social stuff that took us so long to learn and is so hard to get right. We don’t have to make meaningful eye contact. We can cancel plans and be honest that we just don’t want to meet today. We can ask what each other means when we don’t get something. It’s so easy.

11:06 Briannon Lee
I still find meeting up in person hard because of the energy, but I like sometimes to experience you offline because I get a different sense of you. But mostly online is really where I find the words to say what I want to say as a friend.

11:08 Leia Solo
Same same. It’s like I can FEEL you more online. Maybe because all the other sensory stuff is absent. I know when you’re upset, even if we aren’t messaging at the time. It’s a very strong invisible connection.

11:12 Briannon Lee
In the past year, two things have really stuck in my mind. Once when you said you were freaking out about our friendship, you can probably remember better where those feelings came from and I don’t want to talk for you. But it struck me that you were able to say that and we could sit with that and move forward.

But the other was when I had a lot of things happening around supports at home, and I didn’t talk much at all to you for a few weeks. I was very absent because I couldn’t juggle the big stuff in my head with a single other person being in my life. I thought I had to explain that to you, because normally I would. And you said,I know, it’s OK, you don’t have to say. That was a big thing. Because in other friendships there’s rules about explaining absences or needing to always do some reciprocal thing.

11:14 Leia Solo
Yes. We don’t really have any rules at all, do we? I don’t feel like there’s anything I couldn’t say to you. Or any way I could mess something up that wouldn’t be retrievable. It feels like complete acceptance. And you know? It feels that for our boys as well. My son loves the idea of your son. He talks about him a lot. He talks about which toys of his that your boy would like. He makes plans and scripts for what they might say to each other when they meet. And then when they do meet, they are so excited! Then they will often play in different rooms. As if they don’t really need the physical presence of each other, or words to connect them.

11:21 Briannon Lee
Yes it is acceptance.

And nobody coerces our kids to have to be in the same room. It is OK if that get-together they play lots, and it’s also OK if they acknowledge one another and play separately. And even if they don’t play, my youngest is so sad every time you leave, so I think that says something about the value of being together and connected in a different way.

My eldest son sees all of your family as equal friends (adults and children are the same, even though when we meet, he is most interested in your son.) He especially really likes thinking about the toys and objects you collect. Even though they are not his special interest. He appreciates that they are yours, and wants to know all about them.

11:25 Leia Solo
It’s beautiful. Imagine if we’d had friends like that when we were small? If adults didn’t interfere with how the friendship unfolded and we weren’t bullied and punished for getting friendship wrong. I could have saved myself a lot of friendship drama and heartache. I think parents of autistic kids need to understand that there is no right way to do friendship. There is just their child’s preferred way. They don’t need forced socialising or made to conform to conventions about how to be a friend. They need our trust that their way of wanting or not wanting friends, there way of expressing themselves in friendship is perfect just as it is.

11:29 Briannon Lee
Yes trusting that friendship doesn’t have look like what we tried so hard to do as children and young adults with friendship groups, and playdates, and birthday parties, and sleepovers, and sports, and clubs, and and and…

Trusting that there are different ways to connect, that are meaningful for us

11:29 Leia Solo
I have to go! Little one needs me. Just need to say…. meeting you made me accept myself more for who I am.

Image shows pink-haired hacker girl sitting next to red-haired woman with a lightbulb between them.

Image shows pink-haired hacker girl sitting next to red-haired woman with a lightbulb between them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11:29 Briannon Lee

Image is pink-haired hacker girl holding a big red heart and smiling

Image is pink-haired hacker girl holding a big red heart and smiling

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This post is a cut and paste transcript of a Messenger conversation between Briannon and Leia this morning 🙂

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