My Perspective: Forced Friendship
What Are the Benefits of Friends?
I have a lot of family I like to keep track of. Friends tend to complicate things so I like to tell people, "I don't have friends, just a short list of people I tolerate and you're not on it." It's good to make sure people know where they stand with you to avoid confusion in the future. This way if they overstep their boundaries they can't say you didn't warn them.
That being said, there are some good benefits of having friends.
Friends make great scapegoats. If you're running late and you need to be home at a certain time there's nothing like a friend to blame for holding you up. A name and a face helps in case your parents decide to follow up later.
Friends are perfect for solidifying your place as the "good child" in front of your family and friends.
And lets face it. If you and a friend are being chased by a wild animal your best chance of survival is to trip your friend.
Sometimes You Have to Let Nature Take It's Course
One of my biggest pet peeves growing up was people assuming I needed their help. If I was sitting at lunch alone, well meaning (and I use the term loosely) teachers would ask me if I wanted them to introduce me to other students.
It's a common staple among the Asperger's crowd that relationships are difficult for us. We have a difficulty reading facial expressions or understanding social cues.
I don't know that this was the case with me. In retrospect the problem wasn't me not understanding the social cues, it was more or less the fact that I was in a new school and I didnt know the rituals or the inside joke. If I didn't know someone well enough I certainly couldn't tell if they were joking or being funny. And when someone came at me with what appeared to be a caustic remark I struck back like a blind rattler.
The worse of my troubles began in the middle school. With teachers and staff insensitive to my being bullied I handled a situation poorly and was briefly forced to leave the middle school. This was not expulsion. I went to an outside schooling program for a year but mainstreamed back in.
It was during this period that a man who will forever be referred to as "The Shrink" tatooed my forehead with the words Asperger's Syndrome and expected me to be grateful for it.
Once or twice a week I had to see The Shrink. It was a fact I had come to accept although I made it clear to him that I was doing it to save the hassle of arguing with my mother and the school staff who insisted I see him. Still that didn't prevent him from trying to make my life more of a living hell than it all ready was.
During the latter half of the eighth grade I worked back into some classes, but I was in the resource room for much of the day. Chess club got me through the week, giving me something to look forward to and keeping me from saying or doing something that would prevent me from going.
One afternoon a letter came in the mail. It was from the counseling center where The Shrink was employed inviting me to a group therapy session in which another shrink's boy would be involved. When I confronted The Shrink with this at the next evaluation meeting I reminded him of how these sessions with him were being forced on me and that I wasn't actually looking for more ways to make the week longer.
"Well, Nathanielle, I just thought this would be a good experience for you. And that you might get a friend out of this." His exact words.
Ah. The point emerges.
Yes, like most people with Asperger's I was not exactly a social butterfly. Yes I was into things like dragons, fantasy, science fiction and the like. I could talk about time travel and an assortment of other topics with zeal and I'm sure it annoyed the adults to no end. But I certainly didn't have trouble socializing.
Quite a few eighth graders were into the same things as I was. During classes like art, study periods, and other moments where we were free to socialize I could be heard talking quite animatedly about the kinds of things kids and that grade talk about. (You don't need the list, trust me)
But because The Shrink didn't have a film crew on me 24/7 to document the occasion he assumed that I wanted help making friends.
This is not the last time this happened. When I started high school I had to deal with a woman who will be from here on out referred to as the Bitch. The Bitch became my case manager in high school. She worked in the resource room and handled IEP's. She had golden blond hair and a cocky, shit eating grin that told you that she started out every day believing that she was god's gift and nothing or no one had ever bothered to try to convince her otherwise.
During this time I was in impressionable freshman and I made the mistake of allowing The Bitch to read the stories I wrote, share my feelings and opinions with her, etc. And because I went right home after class this gave her the impression that I was unable to make friends with people my age and she tried to set me up an a playdate similar to that which The Shrink attempted to inflict.
She would bring up words like Asperger's and disability and apply them to me quite liberally whether the situation called for it or not. It's as if she couldn't get through the day without reminding me I had a label attached to me now.
"There's a new student coming," she announced. "He's coming from the Middle school and he's veerrrrry smart."
She said this last part with a wink in my direction, as if Iwere supposed to roll over with joy that someone I had something in common with would soon be joining our class. Yes! Yes! Thank you Bitch! You saw through my shy exterior and have heard my silent cries for help oh Bitchy one! What did I do before you came along!
So I meet the guy and he's a total asshole, or at least he was in those days. I had since gotten to know him and while I would volunteer to be the communal toilet paper in a village full of dysentary infected lepers before I ever hung out with him, I wouldn't say he was a total waste of space. But in that moment we hated each other.
The Bitch couldn't understand. We had so much in common. He liked computers too! Argh! Another assumption, people. I'm going to write a whole other article about the various other about the phenomenon of assuming but for now I'll wrap this up.
What am I getting at?
1: Before subjecting your child or loved one with Asperger's to potential annoyance and god only knows what, be sure they actually want your help.
2: Just because the water is calm does not mean there are no crocodiles there. Like any other human being, your child may just not want to be apart of the human experience. This does not mean he can't form normal bonds with people. It just means that having a large group of friends is not his priority at the time. You need to respect his space just as you'd want him to respect yours.
Sometimes you need to step back and trust that your child is going to do what's right for him. Because how will he ever function in the real world if you're always stepping in and doing things for him?
Friendship and other relationships are like any other choice he'll have to make. Taking that away from him, or assuming he wants your help without asking is only going to make it worse.