The trouble with friends – Autism and friendship

This weekend I have been having a little wobble, that doesn’t happen too much these days. My son and I have got into our little groove with home education and relating well together, the pattern of the week and understanding for each other, everything is good or so I thought. Then one sentence from my son in the car on the way to his Dad’s house saddened and unsettle me.

“Mum did you realise I have no friends now, not even one?”

That one sentence was like a spear to the heart. It’s not that he seemed upset or sorry for himself it was just a statement and somehow that made it feel worse. Probably the fact I lost a long term friend to cancer a few months ago made it sting more too, I felt his lacking of someone reflecting mine.

It would be easy for me (or others) to blame the fact he no longer goes to school but in truth school became so stressful for him that although he was in the presence of other children he couldn’t interact with them at all for the last 6 months there And then he couldn’t attend at all. He then moved on to an forest school interventions service was unable to even let a single child near him for the few months he was there. No if anything school broke him socially at least for a while.

When he first stopped going he still had contact with some of his friends from two of the schools he had previously attended as unlike many autistic children, he found it pretty easy to get friends, mostly because he was always lucky enough to be taken under the wing of a more outgoing child which brought him an ‘in.’ He did however once tell me he had no idea how to actively make friends and that he just waited around until someone approached him. There were also problems at times, especially as he got older, he found it hard when others wanted to play their game of choice in the playground and like to take control. He also went through a stage of being bullied and has never felt comfortable having other children in his space but he was generally liked over all. As he got older however I did notice that it was harder for him to maintain friendships.

When he had to come out of school 3 years ago, he did keep these couple of friends, though after diagnoses he had lost a couple of others because parents just seem to back off, all I can put it down to, as nothing else had changed, was that they didn’t like the fact he was now known to be autistic. It was sad but he had other friends with less judgemental parents. For a while I organised trips out with these kids but as they got moulded by secondary school and made new friends my son seemed to have less and less in common with them. He also found it hard to see them regularly, there is only so much socialising he can take at a time. A couple of months ago after repeated invites it became obvious the last of these friends had dropped away despite huge efforts on my part to keep it going.

I have suggested home ed groups or hobby groups to my son, but he doesn’t cope well in groups, I have received invites from parents of other autistic kids to try a meet up one to one but my son says he wants to choose his own friends. I do find it painful to see him without a friend and hard not to push him but then I am a highly social person and human relationships are what makes me tick. My son makes a good a loyal friend but he appreciates his space more than I do and seemly needs less social interaction (or perhaps can only cope with a small amount ) but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want or need friends.

I have been practicing trusting my son to step forward at his own pace and do what he needs to do when he is ready in all areas. I am simply there to facilitate it as soon as he does in any way I can. Really I am sure he will do the same here, one day it will either bother him enough not having friends to step out of his comfort zone to meet some or his pursuit of an interest will put friends in his path eventually however I hate to think of him currently friendless. All humans need other humans to a greater or lesser extent. I remind myself he has me, he has his Dad and uncle and he regularly texts one of his cousins and occasionally sees other family members close to his age, he isn’t completely alone and things will change, that’s the only certainty in life.

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9 thoughts on “The trouble with friends – Autism and friendship

  1. I have an autistic friend who has an autistic teenage daughter who is also being homeschooled. What we do is we play D&D once a week at my house. With one other autistic friend of mine too. My kids consider all three of these people their friends, irrespective of age. But wasn’t a planned thing, more aside effect. Playing D&D was the goal, the friendships just followed.

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    1. I was talking to my son about how often the best friends come out of shared interests which is exactly what you describe here, the interest is the motivator the friendship is the side effect. It’s a great way for autistic people particularly to meet friends because they have a focus.

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      1. Also the mixed age group helps. No need for friends to be the same age as each other.

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      2. I have always said this too. It’s about connection not age. I think he is a bit in transition at the moment between his old life with school and not confident in his home ed identity or what that means in terms of friendships. Not wanting to be in situations where he feels pressured to make friends (whatever their age). I think it has only just dawned on us both that all his friends have no dropped away as he has never been a child who wants to spend all his time with his friends anyway and he needs a lot of recovery time after socialising even with people he knows well so often wouldn’t see a friend from week to week or even month to month at times.

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  2. I feel your pain with this situation, and also struggle with very similar circumstances for my own son (now 13 years old). He also had to come out of the school system 3 years ago, and had 1 or 2 friends through school with similar interests. We had these friends over many times to encourage the relationships to develop, as my son really struggled with not being in control and then not understanding when they couldn’t accept be needed a lot of down time. Gradually these friends have fallen away, I think their parents saw my son as some kind of failure for ‘dropping out’ of school and never ever understood the years of pain and tears trying to keep him in school. As you say, secondary school brings different friends, and apart from speaking to 1 or 2 select people on Xbox, he has no desire to attend clubs, home Ed groups (which we have tried), sports facilities etc as he hates the unpredictability of not knowing who will be there, noise level etc etc. I can only encourage and support as you do, and hope that one day he will meet just 1 or 2 special others who will provide the friendship he needs. Good luck to you with your journey 😊 x

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    1. Yes, this is so like my son but I am confident their time will come. As long as we can keep their mental health and confidence in tack they will find the right friends in the end. X

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  3. We are the same. My oh my , do we have similarities !! 🙂 This ‘business’ of friendship is very resonant for us at the mo too. Both for me as a single mum feeling isolated and for my boy in home ed , avoiding old school friends , dropping out of all things school related so as to not b reminded to the extent that he has shut off from the local kids ; yet not having the capacity for accessing services or home ed communities because he is full of anxiety about new situations and new people. I have tried following his interests to no avail. my tween would currently count no one as being a friend ..he feels like he has no real friends , that old friends have let him down (the whole mess that was school has bled into this negative attitude about people generally )and he will not actively pursue new avenues for socialising. I have to gauge his capacity to socialise all the time and respond accordingly. I encourage him to initiate contact and most of the time he wont. it is tricky to navigate and heart breaking as mum because i know he is lonely and in more need than most of a supportive peer network because of all the trauma of school.
    One positive was he talks to peers on line via the gaming . it’s not ideal, but it’s something i guess. we have to keep gently encouraging . sending friendly hug

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    1. Thanks for your comment su. If all he can cope with is talking online then I’d say that’s ok. It is actually a way a lot of autistic people socialise and perhaps at a later date when he is ready for real world friendships what he has learnt about socialising from his online friends will help ease him in. I think they have to do it in their own time, in their own way.

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  4. I read with a common feeling this post and the comments. I felt the same guilt over my son’s social engagements and
    we didn’t succeed in giving him a, passion for a hobby or sport.
    My son now has College, work and Facebook. He has friends at College who he goes out touch with occasionally, though he has never brought any home or gone out with them much. At school the invites dropped off quite quickly after infant school, then secondary school was a very nurturing environment which he seemed to enjoy. We had an annual birthday party until he was 17 when there was a “no show”. But this year when he is eighteen which is soon, I feel more confident as he is in his second year of College and has found and kept a job for the last 6 months. He may go out with someone for his eighteenth, or possibly just family.

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