In my experience of working with countless autistics over time I know that most of them express the longing for having a friend. They simply don’t know how to make that work. More specifically, they don’t know how to make conversation work for them to be able to participate in the social fabric of life.
Our society uses the medium of conversation for social participation. Through social participation most individuals discover an array of people, some of whom they wish to have as friends. For autistic individuals this often does not happen without lots of support.
Over time many social skills have been directly taught to individuals with autism. We then moved to teaching social understanding rather than individual social skills. We have developed lots of strategies such as cartooning, teaching hidden curriculum, social mapping and social narratives. While these strategies are helpful ways to deliver social information that autistics don’t automatically pick up, still autistics most often go away not having the skills and abilities to use conversation to make friends.
Assigned Friends Outcome
I was taught to say, “Thank you for being my friend.”
So I say it.
I was told to smile like I mean it.
So I smile.
I know I am supposed to feel grateful
That you are my friend
That you took the class
On how to be a peer mentor to me –
The good friends way –
A pal for six weeks
You have been defined
You are a good person
For giving up your spot
At the popular kids’ lunch table
To earn the community service hours
You need for graduation
By eating lunch with me,
By being my assigned friend.
I ask, “Do you know Jerry Lewis?”
Because I think you would like him
I think you are a modern day Jerry Lewis –
A Good Samaritan who calls himself friend.
You don’t have a telethon on TV,
But you have the Jerry Lewis Telethon
In you heart
Imparted by Mrs. Jones in her Good Friends Program.
You are a good person.
You are a trained Good Samaritan now called “friend.”
Definition of Good Samaritan
“A person who gratuitously gives help or sympathy to those in distress.”
Next month you will get your community service credit.
Your lifelong attitude about people like me
Will have been shaped
Because the peer mentoring training
Has passed on to you
Society’s adoption of Jerry Lewis’ ideas about me –
A person in need of sympathy
And a person in distress
Only because I am me – an autistic
We have become fake friends
For six weeks –
Having been defined
With a line drawn between us
Our two groups separated
Defined, distinct, different from each other –
Society’s wisdom at categorization…
When it is over
We say our goodbyes
And like I was taught I say, “Thank you for being my friend.”
And I remember I am meant
To smile like I mean it.
So I smile.
Goodbye peer mentor –
My assigned pal
From Mrs. Jones Good Friends Program.
You go on to your next project
I wait for my next assigned friend to eat lunch with
Both of us having been marked by the experience
Unbeknownst to Mrs. Jones and to us –
The indelible ink of societal attitudes
Wrote messages on both our hearts
Confirming my place in your world…
That it is indeed YOUR world
And thus, your right
To continually put me in my place
For which I am meant to say,
“Thank you for being my friend.”
And to smile like I mean it.
And this status quo could march on and on EXCEPT
Yesterday I stopped smiling
And for all the rest of my todays
I will no longer say
“Thank you for being my friend.”
Even though I know I am meant to.
Today autistics and those who work with them have an opportunity to use the strategies out- lined in Talk with Me: A Step-by-Step Framework for Teaching Conversational Balance and Fluency (Mataya, Aspy, & Schaffer, 2017). Implementation of this program goes way beyond teaching and practicing elements of conversation. Autistics have been able to develop critical mass (Myles, Aspy, Mataya, & Schaffer, 2018) in conversational fluency. Several individuals I know have gone on to be able to use the medium of conversation to allow them to develop friendships based on shared interests……(to continue reading please see Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology. )
BOOKS BY JUDY ENDOW
Endow, J. (2019). Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology. Lancaster, PA: Judy Endow.
Endow, J. (2012). Learning the Hidden Curriculum: The Odyssey of One Autistic Adult. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.
Endow, J. (2006). Making Lemonade: Hints for Autism’s Helpers. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.
Endow, J. (2013). Painted Words: Aspects of Autism Translated. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.
Endow, J. (2009). Paper Words: Discovering and Living With My Autism. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.
Endow, J. (2009). Outsmarting Explosive Behavior: A Visual System of Support and Intervention for Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.
Endow, J. (2010). Practical Solutions for Stabilizing Students With Classic Autism to Be Ready to Learn: Getting to Go.Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.
Myles, B. S., Endow, J., & Mayfield, M. (2013). The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job: Navigating the Social Landscape of Employment. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.