Being autistic and friendships

Because I have autistic spectrum disorder, specifically Aspergers, I have a really hard time managing and maintaining friendships. I live with the parodox of finding social contact incredibly challenging whilst simultaneously finding social contact intensely satisfying and necessary. How do you manage friendships when other people are a complete mystery? I want to tell you about being autistic and friendships.

I am lucky, I currently have and have had some incredible friends. People who have cared enough to overlook my lapses in social judgement, and appreciate me for who I am. However there have also been times when I’ve said, or done the wrong thing and lost or upset friends. Sometimes the situations I’ve found myself in, and the loss of friends has been terribly upsetting.

The first problem with being autistic and having friends is knowing how to identify them. For me there’s not an obvious discernible difference between the different types of relationships in my day to day life. I behave the same way with everyone.

As part of my recent journey of discovery with the new knowledge of my autism I have been trying to identify the different types of relationships I have. This helps me to learn the best way to behave in each situation. So far I’ve catagorised my relationships like this;

Casual acquaintance; these are people I see semi regularly, greet, but don’t know their name or much of their circumstances. For example people who I sit next to whilst our children take their swimming lessons. We share pleasantries but not much else.

Acquaintances; they are the people I see often, I know their names and a little bit about their lives. However we only meet through circumstance, rather than via a plan to see each other. These people make up the majority of my day to day social contact. The other Mum’s on the school run, people who work with my husband, other bloggers etc.

Friend; A friendship is a more deliberate relationship. These are the people you make plans with. I know  more detail about their lives and I choose to spend time with them and they with me. I see my friends for movies, dinners, or a casual cuppa.

Close friend; This type of friendship is rarer, takes time to develop and requires more effort. We share intimate details about each others lives, and we’re there for each other in times of crisis and major life events. The stuff we do is similar to a regular friend but the level of emotional intimacy means I can be more relaxed and not worry so much about getting it wrong.

Unbelievably prior to being diagnosed with autism I had no clue about these different types of relationships. I have still not mastered the social art of engaging with each type. I overshare with acquaintances , and fail to maintain deeper friendships. It’s really tricky for me to navigate these relationships.

In some ways it might be easier to avoid friendships, they cause me a lot of stress. However I know they’re also part of the point in it all. My friends make me happy, challenge me, and help me to think about things a different way. I enjoy laughing with friends, and I enjoy figuring out their problems with them. Simply put without them life would lose colour.

It’s still early days for me, and I’ve got a feeling that learning to navigate this stuff is going to take a lot of time and effort on my part. I still find myself (daily) leaving a conversation wishing I’d handled it differently. I don’t think this stuff will ever come naturally for me.

For now though I feel blessed by the people who have stuck around, some (and you know who you are) through a lot of challenging times. I love my friends, and I enjoy my casual chats with my acquaintances throughout my days. So this feels like stuff worth learning, and I’ll continue on this path for as long as it takes.