Sunday, December 1, 2013

To be friends with an Aspie

People with Asperger’s Syndrome or Aspies as they are lovingly called, are some of the best friends you can have. There are a few things I have observed that, once you understand them can open the door to a life-long friendship.
First of all they are intelligent. They often receive all A’s and B’s on their report card, if they are still in school, or excel in the technical world. My son often helps others with homework or troubleshoots their computer. He helped me figure out why my blog wasn’t working right.

They prefer to follow a schedule. As with other things, they can be obsessive about it. It gives them a sense of security in a world that doesn’t always understand them.

They will usually hyper-focus on a subject, obsess over it; will know details that most of us never think about. My son has obsessed over Harry Potter, Mario Brothers, the Greek gods, Pok√©mon, back to the Greek gods and most recently something in American History class. Yesterday, he was going on about Mario’s mustache and love interests. He has a hard time understanding why he can’t go on about his video games at dinner or wear his Bowser shirt that is 3 sizes too small.

They follow the rules. If you are in a new situation, like the first day of school, they can tell you where you can park or pick up, how long you have for lunch and which teacher requires that assignments be typed and double spaced. They don’t like to break the rules themselves. That could mean a confrontation which takes them well outside their comfort zone.

They often have sensory issues. They will wear clothes that are way out of style or don’t fit right because they feel good. My son will often wear his jacket indoors, with the hood up while he is reading or concentrating. Sometimes they are picky about food for the same reason; it doesn’t feel right in their mouth. My son often prefers his food simple. While others are reaching for the butter to spread on a warm roll, he prefers it plain. He also eats pancakes and waffles without syrup.

A friend with Asperger’s is loyal. My son has a few friends that over the years have looked past all the quirks and loved him for who he is. He is in the ninth grade now and most of his friends are at different schools. But get them together, no matter how long it has been and it’s like they were just hanging out yesterday. One plays football in the local children’s league. My son has difficulty with crowds and noise (remember sensory issues), but would not dream of missing a game. The last game we went to, his team had made the finals. The noise and the crowd were extreme, even for me. We tried hanging out behind the bleachers away from the crowd. He finally gave up and asked to wait in the car. But he didn’t ask to go home. He wanted to be there to greet his little buddy after the game.

I think the most important thing to remember about Aspies is that they are all different. The examples I have given here are of my son, some of the students I work with and stories I have read online. We are still looking for a youth group that is a good fit for him. One group we took him to did not work out at all. We sent him to a church nearby on a Wednesday night. He called about halfway through and said he was “done”. His word for telling me he had reached his limit. We tried the next Wednesday night and he stayed longer, but was not happy. I spoke to the youth minister and tried to explain his difficulty. She cut me off and said “Oh, we have 3 students here with that, we know all about it” So I sent him one final time and was surprised that he did not call for a pick up. When we went to get him, he was not with the other students. He was in her office, clearly shaken and upset. He had wanted to call me and they did not allow him to. We never went back. Over the last few years, he has learned to tolerate crowds, but he still does not enjoy them.

One way I have watched him deal with a crowd is to be louder and/or sillier that everyone else. At the end of the day, his school always has a quick assembly and prayer. Everyone gathers in the main hall and they play a video countdown with upbeat music. It is normally difficult for him to stand still and wait to the assembly to begin in such a boisterous atmosphere. So, he puts his backpack down and begins to dance. Now he is not trained in dance in any way, but he can match the beat. He gets in the middle of the room and jumps, poses, kicks and flails. Sometimes other students join him, sometimes not. His biology teacher calls it “The Daily Kyle Dance”. The best part is, nobody seems to mind and he can just be himself.
So if you can find an Aspie to be a friend with, take the time to understand them. Revel in the things you have in common. Realize that the things they do that are different they do to survive in our society. If you can do these things, you will have a treasure for life.

One who loves a pure heart and who speaks with grace will have the king for a friend.
Proverbs 22:11, NIV