This post is from Amy Gravino, a member of our Communications Committee here at Autism Speaks. Her blog is part of an ongoing series on our site called "In Our Own Words: Living on the Spectrum," which highlights the experiences of individuals with autism. Interested in contributing your story to our blog series? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details!
First, the not-so-surprising news: I have never had an easy time making friends.
You might say it’s part of being on the autism spectrum, which is also not-so-surprising. But what you may not know is that my gratitude for the few friends I have had has exceeded what some might consider “normal” levels. After all, if a bird is starving, every crumb becomes a king-sized meal, and such was the case with me for so many years.
The idea of choosing friends was always so foreign, because the choice was never mine. I had to wait and hope that someone would choose to be friends with me, and if they did, I of course accepted it without question. No one had wanted anything to do with me before, no one might ever again, so therefore I had to take what I could get.
But what happens when friendships change? When a friendship borne from necessity becomes one of obligation? When you’re no longer happy, or fulfilled, but because you’re the one who’s “broken” and “socially inept,” your voice does not matter?
When my former best friend of twelve years—from tenth grade in high school until the middle of 2010—completely stopped speaking to me, I was devastated. I didn’t know what I had done wrong, and a gaping hole suddenly existed in the space she had once occupied.
It was only after many months passed that relief took the place of my anguish, accompanied by a new knowledge: That I did have a choice. That instead of fighting to reach the standards of others, I could actually set my own. And that it’s okay if they don’t meet those standards, because eventually someone will come along who does.
After almost four years of no word, I learned that my former best friend is getting married. Looking at pictures of her is like looking at a shadow; a familiar face and a stranger at the same time. Memories of promises made long ago are coming back to me: Roommates in a nursing home, white picket fence-encased houses somewhere in the suburbs next to one another.
Maid-of-honor at each other’s weddings.
The ideas all seem ludicrous now.
There is the smallest chance that I might see her again, somehow…but the door that has closed is not one I wish to reopen. So many new doors to beautiful things that I never dreamed possible have opened since, and if I open this one again, some part of me is afraid that the others might slam shut.
…But they won’t, because she no longer has the power to take anything away from me.
When you’re on the autism spectrum, it is entirely too common to believe that your friendship is inherently worth less than that of a neurotypical person. We come to believe this not necessarily through overt bullying by those who hate us, but through the subtle, almost imperceptible, gradual dismantling of our self-worth by those who “love” us.
Crumbs to a bird. Be grateful for what you’re given, because otherwise, you would have no one.
That’s not friendship. And the sooner we help individuals on the autism spectrum realize the difference between quality friendships and unhealthy friendships, the closer we come to empowering them, to showing them that what they have to offer is valuable and that they can choose their own friendships, instead of waiting to be told that they are worthy.
“My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me.” - Henry Ford
You can read more of our "In Our Own Words" entries here. We want to hear from you. If you have a story you'd like to share in our series email us at email@example.com!