Creating a friendship as an autistic man is a real challenge. In this essay I am going to elaborate on what those challenges are so as to give you an idea of how hard it is for me to make friends.
First, because I am unable to speak, it causes potential friends to misunderstand me. A pal may see my behavior and make an assumption about what it means. Their assumptions are not always correct. Behavior does not always accurately account for the feeling that is behind it. Friends constantly interpret my behavior as they experience it. I would like to give you an example of the difficulty I experience in getting pals to understand my feelings.
I and two other friends were at my house. We were caring about getting some lunch. We had had pizza several times in the recent past. I dearly wanted to please my friends and to let them know how much I cared about them. Since I observed that they really liked pizza I agreed with them to buy pizza again. But I really did not care about getting pizza for lunch, only cared about pleasing my friends and wanting them to know that I cared about them. They took my behavior at face value, thinking I really wanted pizza as they did.
The problem is that each time I get attached to a friend I have to prove that I like them because I can’t tell them in words. Calling pals friends means that I have to be kind to them so that they will know I care. I am seeing that it doesn’t always work out that way. I care about being able to tell friends I like them when I am feeling it, but the inability to spontaneously talk, creates problems. I first have to get people to realize that I want to say something and then to facilitate my speaking it. My actions in getting them to know I care can then be misunderstood.
Secondly, the ability to establish and maintain a friendship is limited. The ability to let a person know I would like to be friends is difficult for me. I can’t go over to them and tell them I am interested in getting to know them. Approaching people is problematic. They may get scared and fear that I will hurt them. They cause me to feel that I am seen as a threat, a person to be suspicious about. I therefore must wait until I am in a caring situation before I can make friends. I lack the freedom to choose the person I wish to make friends with.
Even after I have established a relationship I am limited in the ability to maintain it. Because I can’t call my friend up on the phone and tell them I would like to be friends with them and plan for future get togethers.
As an example of the difficulty I am describing occurred when I was in elementary school and was interested in a friendship with a boy in my class. he did not know I was caring about a friendship with him. I began to be aggressive toward him to get his attention, but he just got back at me. I cared about him and he just called me a mean hostile person. My attempt at friendship turned into a hostile careless relationship.
A third challenge has to do with being seen as different than other people. This is a fact that I believe causes people to get scared of autistic individuals. This fear then allows them to dehumanize us and to create separate worlds for us to lie in. Defining us as inhuman becomes the cornerstone for deciding on beastly treatment strategies and also becomes the background against which pals learn of us.
Being seen as different then becomes a judgement about who we are as people and how we fit into a society. We are judged as inappropriate, indifferent to other people’s feelings, dangerous, strange, weird and incapable of adding to a society as a participating member. Seeing autistic people in this manner then allows for society to justify the need to protect both autistic and society at large from the fear that autistic people may harm themselves and/or others. Viewing autistic people as needing protection and the superior judgement of professionals they are seen as being unequal in relationship to others. They are not a partner in relationships.
How then can two unequal people have a real friendship? The unequal distribution of power creates problems for two people attempting to have a friendship because one of the pals becomes, by necessity, a caretaker to the other, putting one of the pals in a childlike position. This is problematic because that means that they are caring about each other not as man to man but as man to child. The unequal distribution of power can’t help but permeate the relationship and effect every aspect of it. Being pals with an autistic person means that an individual bears the responsibility to listen to the autistic person as a man not as a child and to face the fact that being autistic does not mean that one does not care about a pal as an adult but is caring about him/her as a peer, Both people must have a desire to be friends because they like each other not because one of the pair needs the other. Their friendship should be based on caring, not care-taking. Creating a friendship is like having the freedom to be a member of the world of relationships.