Autism and Friendships: Adding Color to your Spectrum

2 boys standing side to side lean on a wooden rail. The background is full of greenery indicating that the photo is set in a forest.

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.

2 boys standing side to side lean on a wooden rail. The background is full of greenery indicating that the photo is set in a forest.

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 Responses

  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.

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