Learning how to make friends, the Asperger’s way

Well, I didn’t think I would ever see the day, but last weekend David organised for a group of friends to come over to our house.

Now if you have ‘neuro-typical’ children, I am sure you find this statement a little strange, but for those of us with children with Asperger’s….. I know you understand.

Here is what happened.

A couple of weeks ago, David won a gaming competition.  Whilst he has there, he met two people, a young girl I will call Tanya and a young man I will call Ethan.  Both these young people are, as they say, ‘gamers’.

Now David has really only ever had two close friends. Both diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, they have all been friends for almost 10 years. But they don’t see each other very often and due to lots of issues,  only get together every couple of months or so for movies etc.  But outside of that small circle, whilst David knows a lot of people, he finds making friends difficult and he doesn’t normally initiate social gatherings.

So we were surprised when he asked us if these new friends could come  to our house on Saturday night for a ‘couple of drinks and to play games’.  Not thinking much more about it, we continued with our plans for the week, which, as it would turn out, was a night out for my husband and I and our two girls to see a musical.

Sure enough, on Saturday night, as we were about to leave, David’s  friends arrived – one of his best friends and his two new friends. Tanya and Ethan were both a little shy, but very polite, and I think a little relieved that we were going out for the evening.  When we got home later than night, there were a couple of cans of beer and Coke on the kitchen counter, a few left over bits of pizza, a couple of empty bowls of potato chips and four loud young people chatting and laughing about all sorts of things, but mostly ‘game orientated’, and they continued to talk until 3am!

Now, as I mentioned before, for parents of ‘neuro-typical’ children, this is no big deal, but for us, the parents and siblings of a person with Asperger’s this was just so heartwarming.  After so many years of sitting  outside of the whole social scene,  I can see David starting to feel comfortable in creating friendships.  He has learned how to introduce himself and create conversations with new people. Last week he even caught up with Tanya a couple of times for movies and lunch and it culminated in organising a social get together last weekend.

Raising a child with Asperger’s is about modeling and patience.  David’s two sisters are very social and I have often felt a little sad for him, as they are always out and seem to make friends very easily.  But over the years he has been watching how to do it. He has learned how to strike up a conversation, ask questions (and listen to the answers).  He has learned how to introduce people to others and be aware of their needs.  On Saturday, he organised the drinks, organised the food, introduced his friends to us and initiated a conversation so that they felt comfortable and welcome.

A person with Asperger’s learns by modeling, especially modeling the behaviours of those around him.  I realised a long time ago, that if David was going to ‘learn’ how to interact with the neuro-typical world, then it was up us, as David’s parents, to become the people we wanted David to become. That included all aspects of who we were and how we interacted with others.

How wonderful, after all these years, to see that by us modeling the appropriate social cues over many years, and with lots of encouragement, that he is now becoming comfortable enough  to seek out his own friends and cultivate friendships on his own terms.

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