Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Do Aspie Children know at they are Different? - Part 3: The Teenage Years

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.

New Friendships
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.

Closing Thoughts
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.


The Emery's said...

Thank you for the insight you give! My son will be 12 this month and seems so much like a younger version of you.

3CrazyBoys said...

I have said since my son was 3 (he is now almost 8) that he would marry the first girl he dated because the emotional stress of breaking up and dating someone else would not be in him. :) He is a "ladies" man now, becaues all of the girls adore him, but I am sure he has no idea what is going on. Thank you for your honesty--it is truly adding to my comfort level with my son's dx and future. Feel free to read my blog, as I discuss my day to day life with all three of my sons!

ASpieboy said...

I agree that socialization has to be initiated by the other party.

ASpieboy said...

I agree that socialization has to be initiated by the other party.

Zhekai said...

I've enjoyed these posts, makes me want to write my own experiences in response; because we found different ways to cope with the same problems.
I'm looking forward to part 4.

Becca said...

Hmmm.....I understand missing the signals to realizing you are friends, but what about the other way around---like assuming everyone is your friend? While my 9 year old seems not to have any real friends at all, it has been sometimes like he assumes everyone is a friend. I don't know how exactly to explain it, but he'll go follow a kid around for hours talking him to death about some crazy subject only he is interested in, but is he doing this just to talk to someone, or is he assuming this random kid is his friend? I see that the friendships aren't real, but I'm not sure if he does, or if he is just trying to make friends. ??

FleaCircusDirector said...

>I would be constantly harrased to perform my "invisible flea circus" act for others

If your classmates were enjoying the performance then this is fine but if they asked you to perform it because they thought it was wierd then that verges on bullying.

However, out of all the things you could have chosen to perform a flea circus was an excellent choice.

Stacia said...

Thank you so much for these posts! Can't wait for the next one... My daughter is only 5, but I really notice her lack of skills with friend making. I have to remind her to respond when kids say Hi to her, but then on the flip side she doesn't understand when a practical stranger ignores her...

Anonymous said...

i'm so mad that your star wars figurines were stolen! what an awful thing to have happen. my son LOVES his star wars things. this would crush him!

Angela Felsted said...

That was a really sad story you told about how the pieces to your toy was stolen and then you burned all your bridges because you believed you couldn't trust people anymore.

I am glad you found good friendships though and was introduced to your future wife. My son thinks everyone is as interested in trains, airplains, and radars as he is. He assumes everyone is his friend. But then, he is still young. Looking forward to your next post.

The Rambling Taoist said...

I too was a class clown from grade school through college (maybe I still am). I seemed to have no qualms at all at making fun of myself or performing stunts that others wouldn't dream of doing in public.

One favorite of my classmates -- because they found it both hysterical and utterly gross -- was my disappearing kleenex trick. I would take a clean kleenex and show my audience both sides. I would then sneeze in it and announce that I would now make it disappear.

Did I throw it in the nearest trash receptacle, you ask. Of course not. I ate it!

arkityp said...

i agree; sometimes socialization has to even be forced. to this day, i would never invite myself to anything and most of the time i don't get invited to anything! it's an obstacle i think every aspie has to face: the fence that you either fall over by accident, or that someone pulls you over.

i only had one friend for 11 years, and her mother would often call mine to schedule weekends out of the house, because i wouldn't leave otherwise. becoming an adult hasn't really changed this sense of value or recognition. as i went through my teenage years, socializing declined as harassment and bullying were no longer controlled or credible, as it was expected that one (even a "normal" girl) could fend for themselves.

rachel said...

I so much relate to not knowing when someone was initiating a friendship. The first time I clued into this was my senior year of high school.

I had been spending time with another girl at her house, and she walked me down the street so that I could pick up the bus. Before she left, she looked right into my eyes, smiled broadly, and said, "I'm so glad we met!" I can still see her face almost 35 years later. It was a wonderful moment, and we became nearly inseparable for the rest of the year. We ultimately decided to go to different colleges, on the premise that if we went to college together, we'd never meet anyone else!

I'm also very mad about your star wars figures. I don't know what the karmic penalty is for that, but I hope the thief has had a similar experience and learned that skill that NTs are supposed to be so good at: empathizing with the feelings of others.

Anonymous said...

Wow what a great post. My eyes are full of tears. Our little boy is 10 and no friends and his story sounds so very much like yours! It gives me hope that he will one day have friends! :) Thank you!

Anonymous said...

My name is Etienne Marais and I am 18 years old. I've been diagnose with Asperger Syndrome at the age of two years old.

Etienne Marais said...

My name is Etienne Marais and I am 18 years old. I've been diagnose with Asperger Syndrome at the age of two years old.

midwestcoast said...

I moved around America during all my school years. I spent about 6 months to a year at each of the 18 schools I went to...while I am still on the fence as to whether or not I am an Aspie (I lean towards being an Aspie but am not ready to seek diagnosis) the other kids at all the other schools could tell as much as I could that I was weird. Always and very nearly right away. Friends always "made" me as well. And my fiancée had to pursue me. It was not the other way around.

Dutchie said...

I want to say sorry for your precious toys that were stolen. That's really awful. You must haved suffered in silence. That kinda hurts me. Thanks for sharing all this with us though.