Monday 9 April 2018

Autism Acceptance Month 2018 Day 7: F is for Friendships


F is for Friendships

Some autistics want friends; others aren't that bothered. Both are fine, as long as the person is happy with whichever category they fall into. Sometimes we can have difficulties making friends because many people pick up the fact that we are different and a lot of NT society has a long list of unwritten and frequently-changing rules that can be overwhelmingly confusing for us. When you have a friendship with an autistic person, please be clear - make sure everyone is on the same metaphorical page by discussing boundaries, conventions, perferences, what is and isn't comfortable, expectations and so on. I'll do an in-depth post on forming and sustaining friendships with autistics at another point.

One of the best bits about autistic friends is that we rarely engage in deception and fudging the truth - if you ask us for our opinion, you'll get our honest one! (Yes, there will always be exceptions; I've come across some very manipulative and deceptive autistics.) A couple of my friends love going clothes shopping with me because they know I'll be blunt about the outfits they're trying on! 

I often find myself being quite careful around a lot of NTs (though less so these days). Not so much my friends because they know me and they know I'll be blunt! And being around my autistic friends brings out my bluntness even more but that's fine - that's just the autistic-culture way. People are sometimes shocked at how direct I and my friend Katharina are with each other, but we're not being cruel or anything, we know that's not the intent, so it's all perfectly fine. She's one of my best friends and I love her dearly.

I spend a lot of time at home on the computer, partly because it's where I do a lot of my advocacy/activism work, partly because I do a lot of fiction writing (and research for my writing) and partly because my physical health problems mean that I often don't have the energy to go out and do things (but please don't stop inviting me!) Yes, I spend a lot of time on Facebook (again, part of that is because it's a big part of my autism work and also due to my role as secretary for the larp club I'm in) - it's often my biggest connection to the outside world. I chat to friends quite a bit over Messenger, and one of the things I love about interacting with friends that way is that it doesn't require the use of speech (which can go a bit wayward when I'm tired/stressed), so I can make myself understood. And if the conversation just stops, that's fine. If someone has to go off and answer the phone/run an errand/something comes up and simply doesn't respond, or it happens to me, there's no upset or hurt, nobody thinks they've done or said something wrong, because we all understand that sometimes life happens, and we just pick up where we left off.

I've made some amazing friends through social media, primarily Facebook as I don't really use any other platforms (I probably should get onto Twitter but the pace of it and the risk of misunderstandings due to only being able to deliver short soundbites both unsettle me and there mere thought overwhelms me). A lot of my autistic friends are people I know through Facebook are people I have yet to meet in person, but we chat pretty regularly (particular shoutouts to Ann M, Ryan H, Alexis R, Cath and Kajsa!) and I look forward to one day actually meeting them. There will be more about this aspect of friendships later this month in S is for Social Media.

Autistics tend to be a lot more comfortable than NTs when it comes to sustaining friendships online. Many of us need alone time and a break from "peopling", have difficulties going out (sensory, psychological and physical) and struggle with conventional communication. While many NTs love going out to busy pubs or cafés to interact with friends, a lot of autistics find such places difficult or even impossible to navigate, with the multiple, often loud, noises, uncomfortable lighting, mix of smells and aromas, food issues and uncertain social conventions and expectations, to name just some. Online friendships can be much more comfortable and manageable for us, and as long as these are safe and healthy, there is nothing wrong with that - and can be really beneficial for us, allowing us to maintain and develop friendships in a way that we might well not be able to if we were forced to do it under NT circumstances.

Sometimes it can do us good to broaden our experiences with trying new places and so on but we may not always be able to cope with it on a given day, so be patient with us; at the same time, if you want to keep our friendship, respect our boundaries - if I tell you I can't socialise with you at a venue (even if I don't explain why), understand that I have my reasons and they are valid. It might be the acoustics, the lighting, the layout, the lack of an accessible toilet, the ten steps up to it and no lift/ramp/etc or something else. I am thankful that I have many friends that respect and accept that.

Having friends has made life much better. I like having autistic and NT friends. They respect my boundaries and needs, and I theirs. 

I have some amazing friends from many different parts of my life and I love them all. They accept me the way I am and don't try to change me into being more NT. I can't be friends with people who pressure me to suppress my autistic traits and interests, just to fit in. Even before I knew I was autistic, back when I was merely aware that I was different, although many people were cruel to me, I had some fantastic friends who were there for me in the darkest days and encouraged me to stay true to who I am. Particular shoutouts to Caroline T (formerly B), Carol H, Catherine, Alison C, Julia, Hannah B, Hettie, Tammy, Joanna, Nicola J and several others. Also a special shoutout to Jenna in Iowa, who I originally met through an online Catholic community and is one of my absolute best friends and surrogate sister.

I should probably write more but this is overdue anyway and I'm really tired so I'm going to finish at this point. Thank you, all my friends, for accepting me for who I am and not trying to stop me being my authentic, autistic self!