How autism is making me a better friend

Dear Friend,

According to research studies, people with close friendships are happier and healthier and ten friends seems to be the magic number. (Ten, I'd be lucky!) It is also thought that having good friendships can lengthen your life.

Living life as an expat can be very lonely at times. You can go through periods of, sometimes intense, homesickness. After ten years here, I experience it less but there are times when I really miss my amazing, fantastic friends.

I must admit that I took my friends for granted. I didn't realise just how special our relationship was until I moved to another country and tried to form new friendships. I am so lucky to have the type of friends with whom, you can sit in comfortable silence, roar laughing and cry uncontrollably. People who accept you, who get you, totally. I didn't realise how lucky I was. Sounds cheesy but in the UK my friends were my family.




Now I am an expat, not only that, I am an expat married to a Dutchie. This means that I have a foot firmly in each camp but it also means that I don't quite belong to either...

When I moved to Holland I went to some local international groups to meet Expats. The problem is that speaking the same language or sharing a country of birth doesn't guarantee the click of friendship.

Social media has made it easier for me to keep in contact with my friends in the UK and feel part of their lives too. But it can also make us lazy friends, as it gives us the illusion of having actually been in touch. My Facebook habit was becoming an addiction and for me too much time on social media had a hint of loneliness... There is a degree of desperation in being the first to like a picture or comment on a post.



Ok, let's be honest, as a special needs parent I have found it difficult to sustain my friendships because I hate feeling judged. I hate anyone judging my son's behaviour or indeed my parenting skills. I am fearlessly protective of my family!

Differences in opinion have lead to conflicts with friends that I have found very difficult to forgive or forget. Sometimes trust is broken, a judgement is made or the enjoyment is lost. When people are hurt and emotions come into play it is very difficult. I believe that is why there are so many chat rooms and social networks starting up specifically for special needs parents. We are looking for friendship, for support and importantly support from people who "get it".

Recently I read a comment on a social media site that said; How can I teach my son (autistic) about friendships when I am so obviously failing myself? Special needs families can feel isolated and alone. But I think this parent was looking at the problem from the wrong perspective.

What has autism taught me about friendship?



1) Treat everyone as your friend.


Big lad thinks that everyone is his friend and doesn't exclude anybody.

I am guilty of choosing to make friends with people I think are like me. Similar age, intelligence, interests etc but aren't I limiting myself? My life is richer and I learn more from different people.

2) Talk things through honestly.


When the big lad has problems they need to be discussed straight away or they become huge issues. I have learned not to let small problems fester, as they become big ones. Be honest and open.

It is not very English to air our dirty laundry in public. It can be uncomfortable at first but is worth it in the long run.

3) Don't hold grudges.


When the big lad has a bad day we learn from it, then forget it and move on. We don't bring it up later on. Kids are great at this, they fight one day and are best mates the next.

Once a problem is sorted move on. After all, I don't want to spend everyday avoiding certain mums at school drop-off.

4) Keep your promises.


Big lad always keeps his promises. Rules are rules.

Be there. Don't let people down. Don't make promises you can't keep.

5) Trust people.


Trust is really important for the big lad. Without trust he can not function that is why the beginning of the school year with a new teacher is so challenging.

I am learning like my son to give people the benefit of the doubt as most hurtful actions are due to thoughtlessness not disregard for feelings.

6) Friendship should be unconditional.


With kids we hear, if you invite me to your party I'll be your friend.

What do adults do? It is more subtle but we do have certain expectations of our friends; sympathy, understanding, honesty, trust, enjoyment of each others company.

What is your deal breaker? Is it worth it?

7) Some friendships are special.


You know who you are girls. I love you...

8) Be open to new friendship.


I am always encouraging my boys to say hello, to introduce themselves to others, to ask kids if they'd like to join in. Perhaps I need to listen to my own advice?


Anyone fancy a cup of coffee?

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