This post is from Debbie Franklin, the mother of a wonderful young man with autism.
We all have particular dreams and aspirations for our children when they are born. When a child is diagnosed with autism, those hopes and dreams undergo major revisions. Over the years, I have had to come to terms with what to expect for my son, but there are some things that remain constant. My son is now an adult and he wants the satisfaction of fostering friendships and pursuing a romantic life. As his mom, it's my job to help him, but it is difficult to watch him struggle.
While many people know that autism exists, they can't identify it in another person. My son looks like any other man his age—and he is a handsome guy. People are taken aback by some of his behaviors. While I am used to his particular quirks, they can be jarring to other people. He covers his ears when noises become too much for him and his peers think that he is being rude or he is trying to purposely ignore them. These small things become giant obstacles for him when he tries to make friends.
When it comes to dating, he has significant challenges. He would very much like to have a girlfriend, but he has difficulty relating to women in the way that most men do. He is blunt and honest, which may sound like a good thing, but it often makes people shy away. Instead of paying the traditional compliment, he may be honest about a particular outfit or feature. It is not unusual for him to tell someone wearing a blue dress that he hates the color blue. This may not sound like a big deal, but think about if a person told you that he didn't like the color of your dress on a first date. It doesn't make for a great first impression.
These are the challenges that my son faces when he tries to relate to people outside of the special needs world. While some people are understanding and accepting, many people are not. Many people believe that young men and women with autism don't have feelings, but this couldn't be further from the truth. My son definitely has feelings and they get hurt easily. He just doesn't express his emotions in the same way that you or I might. It still devastates him when someone rejects him or makes fun of him.
Fortunately, there are new outlets we are discovering to help him make friends he can trust. Online services like SpecialBridge.com are a huge help, because he can find people who understand him and his autism. Make no mistake about it: he wants to meet someone that accepts that autism is a part of him, not someone who likes him despite his autism. Community gatherings and support groups are also helpful for our whole family.
Watching your child struggle to make friends can be difficult, but for parents with autistic kids, it can be devastating. It breaks my heart to see people hurt his feelings—even if they don't realize they are doing it. He still wants to make friends with everyone he meets. My son is very friendly, which is surprising to a lot of people who aren't familiar with autism. It is our goal to watch him make new friends both within the autistic community and outside of it. One day, we hope he will meet a nice girl and settle down. Watching my son get married is still one of my hopes for him and no diagnosis will ever change that. His charm and good looks will one day win over someone, I am sure of it.