It seems that aspie children are well aware of their differences from an early age and that at the very least, this has significant impact on their ability to make and retain lasting friendships. So far however, the long term negative impact has been minimal but during the teenage years, this will begin to change.
When I first started at my new "secondary school", quite a large number of my primary school classmates came with me. Unfortunately, since my only friends by that stage were girls and since I was starting at a (then) all boys school, I started off with a lot of familiar names and faces but no friends.
The Comedy Act
My earliest forays with my classmates were in the form of comedy routines. I had no fear of acting stupid in front of others (aspie naievity) and I would be constantly harrased to perform my "invisible flea circus" act for others. I did this instead of conversation and I quickly earned a reputation for being weird. My new classmates had quickly marked me as different.
At last, part way through the year, I started to make a friend - or rather, the friend started to make me - since I remember having no idea why he was inviting me to his place. I'd obviously missed all of the signals. It turned out that both of us had a healthy interest in Science Fiction and Star Wars in particular.
Loss of Innocence
Sometimes events which are traumatic and life changing for the aspie can be completely missed by everyone around them. Such an event occurred in my first year of secondary school. The class were building diaoramas and we'd been asked by the teacher to bring in a shoebox to make it in and various toys to put inside. Naturally, I decided to build a Star Wars one but within a day or two all of my figurines had been stolen. I don't remember if a meltdown manifested externally at the time but I know that I was inconsolable for months. All of my most prized posessions had been stolen in one go.
That one terrible event made me lose faith in humanity as a whole and I've been cagey with my posessions ever since. My trust was broken and it has never fully been restored. When nobody was fingered for the crime, I set my sights upon my new-found friend as he was the only person I'd met who showed any interest in Star Wars. That friendship was terminated before it had really begun.
The Star Wars event caused me to write off my entire class as friends and I resigned myself to a depressing future without friends. The school had a rule that every single student had to play some sport and I was quickly enrolled in soccer. Unfortunately, my lack of co-ordination made this impossible and I don't think I kicked the ball during gameplay more than a couple of times in the entire season. I quickly became bored with the game.
There was another boy in our team who disliked soccer. He was very loud and not at all the sort of person I'd normally be involved with but again he started being friendly and invited me over to his place before I even knew that we were "friends". Again, I had misread the signs. This new boy introduced me to a bunch of like-minded friends (other boys who didn't quite fit in) and I ended my first year of secondary school in good spirits.
Two years later, we were all still friends although I had never been in any of their classes. At that point, we were allowed to use the "big kid's library" and were asked if we wanted to become library monitors. Completely disregarding my friends, I jumped at the chance and signed up immediately. They were a little miffed when they found out but all of them signed up within a day or so.
For the next four years, we spent every lunchtime in the library together. We were rarely ever harassed by bullies because they never caught us wandering the playground. My group still thought that I was weird but little by little our respective differences rubbed off and we all developed a healthy respect for eachother. Today, we are all approaching our fourties and are still the best of friends.
As for the boy who introduced us all to eachother, he left school two years earlier than the rest of us but one of his last introductions was to a girl. The girl who became my wife.
There are a few important things to remember here. First of all, it took less than six months at a new school for students to recognise me as something different and take advantage of my naietivty. Secondly, that I never recognised the start of a friendship - everything had to be initiated from the other side. Thirdly, that the concept of friendship meant so little to me that I was willing to sign away my lunchtimes without even consulting my friends.
Parents of aspies should take note that if your child is suffering from bullying, "out of sight, out of mind" is the best remedy and it may expose them to like-minded friends.
In the next part of this series, I'll actually discuss the title question and give my thoughts on when and how children with aspergers should be told about their condition.