Autism and Friendships: Adding Color to your Spectrum6 min read

They’re out there, in the brush­strokes of the orig­inal, museum-quality painting hanging in your favorite hole-in-the-wall pub, or the Louvre, or the kalei­do­scopic mural painted on the shut­tered, col­or­less foundry.

They’re in the lit­er­a­ture that atom­ized your brain in col­lege and grew your world­view, the tor­tured and under­stated vision­aries who spent their lives trying to be seen through the poetry and prose not embraced until after they were gone. They’re in the music that has caused your pores to turn them­selves inside out when you heard in a way that tran­scended sound.

They’re Van Gogh, Tesla, Einstein, Bach, Melville, O’Connor, Banneker, Ellison, Dickinson, that kid you used to laugh at in high school, the co-worker who tried too hard and didn’t get her con­tract renewed, the dude working part-time at Taco Bell who can’t seem to get your order right, the pro­fessor who mum­bles through his lec­tures, the skinny neighbor with all the fat cats, the enthu­si­astic woman you hope never comes back to book club, the child who runs into traffic to rescue a turtle moving at the wrong speed for the rest of the world, and the home­less man playing Mozart in per­fect rhythm on the tawdry upright piano down­town.

They cre­ated the tech­nology that afforded you the choice to read this article or to ignore it.

They’re the unsung heroes in the wrong socks and the wrong era, and you’ve already been loving them through their work.

They’re on the spec­trum, and they’ve been trying to show you what they can do and who they are since the begin­ning of recorded his­tory. They are the people who spend their days and sleep­less nights sur­viving, unmoored from the world you inhabit. They’re not awk­ward savants. They’re not Sheldon or Rain Man. They are as diverse as the word “human.” They’re not you, but they are beau­ti­fully brave and can broaden your world with a friend­ship that is refreshing and a per­spec­tive that is unique to the neu­ro­di­verse.

Sadly, many of them are not rec­og­nized for their worth until after they are gone, if even then. They aren’t moti­vated by fame, wealth, or social stature, they reject com­pe­ti­tion, and their dif­fer­ences often keep them from being able to pen­e­trate the implicit social screening involved in securing pro­fes­sional posi­tions which align with their tremen­dous poten­tial.

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To really be able to con­nect with someone on the spec­trum, you will have to be open to the fact that they have a dif­ferent type of mind and a dif­ferent way of com­mu­ni­cating. Some neu­rotyp­ical people have already learned how knowing someone on the spec­trum can add new color to their per­cep­tion, allowing them to see the world with more dimen­sion and clarity, and they are going to share with you their expe­ri­ences.

In this article, neu­rotyp­ical and non-autistic adults share the ben­e­fits of being in a friend­ship with someone on the spec­trum:

  1. With autistic friends — and autistic strangers if they feel safe — you get straight into what is real and honest and true. There isn’t that layer of “social plastic” between you and them, so you are simply soul-to-soul and there is a beau­tiful inti­macy in that. –Sue Goldman, UK
  2. If you ever want a friend who will research some­thing until the end of time to prove some­thing, you can’t do better than an aspie. Having an aspie as a friend means you never have to guess what their motives are. They are direct and true to them­selves. They are exactly how they present them­selves. There is no guessing. –Sarah, VA
  3. When I was dating my hus­band, what really drew me to him was the fact that he didn’t care what people thought about him, how he dressed or acted. I was so impressed with that, because I was almost par­a­lyzed by the fear of what people thought of me. –Betsy, VA
  4. They’re awe­some, pas­sionate people. If you find someone who shares an interest with you, you have so much fun together! Also, they’re very sen­sible and per­cep­tive and offer great advice. –Kerli, UK
  5. Having someone in my life who is uniquely aspie enriches me in that they are gen­uine, with no pre­tense, not wasting time per­forming social dances, get­ting past the small talk and straight to some­thing real or ben­e­fi­cial. –Regina, WV
  6. Having autistic friends means I can just be myself. Interaction is fair and to the point. […] If I talk non­sense, I’m gen­er­ally told, and I can also speak my mind in turn. This done from the point of rec­og­nizing we think dif­fer­ently. Our friend­ship feels gen­uine because if nei­ther of us want to spend time together, we just wouldn’t. It is a wel­come relief from the socially com­pli­cated friend­ships with neu­rotyp­i­cals. Not better nor worse, just a bit dif­ferent. ‑Heidi Keeling, UK
  7. Having autistic friends, specif­i­cally autistic friends who are femme or non-binary helps me to embrace the diver­sity of my autistic chil­dren and spouse with more under­standing and a more pos­i­tive con­text than that which the NT world pro­vides. I am Neurodivergent and share co-occurring diag­noses with many of my autistic friends. I learn so much from autistic moms! […]Also, at this point in my life, the often direct responses and/or ques­tions are a relief. And when one of my autistic friends comes to one of my shows, I feel like there is someone else there who knows how hard I’m working to be up there on stage! — Jen Bluhm, MN.
  8. The biggest ben­efit to having a neu­ro­di­verse friend is slowing myself down and looking at some­thing in a way I hadn’t con­sid­ered before. Too often I’m con­tent to not chal­lenge my thoughts or the thoughts of my neu­rotyp­ical friends, espe­cially regarding assump­tions I make on a reg­ular basis. [They] have shown me many times why my ini­tial way of thinking about a tough sit­u­a­tion is in need of fur­ther review. –Kayley, VA
  9. He was the most loving child. He loves ani­mals and is very good with them. He has a won­derful mind and is a ter­rific writer. His heart and soul are so tender, gentle, and filled with good­ness, and it is very sad that the world cannot see what I see in him. He is an unap­pre­ci­ated person who has much to offer to this world in a time when rude behavior is cel­e­brated and applauded, he is a source of empathy and caring for others, even when the world makes fun of him. –Susi, TX
  10. The ben­efit is in having my view of what it means to be human, to be a person–to have that broad­ened to include minds that work very dif­fer­ently from mine. I don’t con­sider hon­esty to be brutal unless it has hurtful inten­tion. There’s a dif­fer­ence between being an aspie and being a jerk. –Neal, VA
  11. Sometimes, there are prob­lems or obsta­cles that are over­whelming, frus­trating, or impos­sible for me, but my aspie friends find the chal­lenge exhil­a­rating and fun. What’s more is that they are so gen­uinely excited to help, showing sup­port in their lan­guage. It’s great to have friends who can use physics to prove your inno­cence after a car wreck or hack into your com­puter when you’ve for­gotten your pass­word. They show they care in dif­ferent ways, and you just have to see them for how they are indi­vid­u­ally and not expect them to react or give friend­ship in the same ways others do. –Madison, VA

Note: This is the third and final piece of a series on autism and friend­ship. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

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2 Comments

  1. This is won­derful and so well written. Friendships are a real chal­le­nege. I have had many friends throughout my life, but main­taining them has never been easy. I have lost con­tact with so many people over the years.

  2. ” I don’t con­sider hon­esty to be brutal unless it has hurtful inten­tion. There’s a dif­fer­ence between being an aspie and being a jerk. ” …I love that.

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