April is the month to honor people with autism and bring awareness to the challenges many families face.
This is our series on autism myths. Below is one of those myths. Please read and share.
Kids with autism don’t want friends.
This is probably the biggest autism myth and one that I personally ascribed to before I really understood autism. What’s up with it?
I would say of all the kids I have met on the Spectrum, the vast majority of them do want friends. Sometimes they do not understand the meaning of friendship and may be a little less concerned about it, but almost every kid with autism I ever met would tell you that it would be nice to have more friends.
So why does this myth exist? A few main reasons.
People with autism have tremendous difficulty making friends. Sometimes they appear rude or say insulting things. For me personally, I’ve gotten some good ones like, “Why is it that you got so old?” when looking at a picture of me from when I was (just a little) younger. Another one, “I really can’t talk to you without your glasses because you just look very annoying without them.” Or “you must be a street person to wear that jean jacket. Only beatniks wear jean jackets.” In case you are wondering, yes I laughed and I was not offended.
People with autism often keep to themselves. Yes, it is true that lots of people with autism are comfortable playing alone. Often, they might prefer playing alone, doing something they like, than with a peer who is doing something less interesting. However, one thing that people need to hear…I mean hear this now…is: people with autism have faced so much frustration and failure in social interactions they are often reluctant to participate in them. They are often shy and hesitant around peers for fear of another bad experience.
Social motivation and social reciprocity are not the same thing. What’s that now? Social motivation is the desire and the interest to have friends and to be around other people. Social reciprocity is the skill and ability to interact with another person in a back-and-forth exchange. That’s hard. Social reciprocity requires some degree of eye contact, some perspective taking, some empathy, some comprehension, and maybe some gestures.
In the video below, my fearless comrade does a beautiful job explaining that difference here. As she shares, this is a dangerous myth for many families because often parents hear comments like, “oh there’s no way your kid has autism because he is so interested in making friends.” Well, this is not only untrue but also results in wasted time for those critical interventions that could help make life a little easier for that child and family.
If your child wants friends and is having trouble making them, autism is not guaranteed but it’s on the table. Some other disabilities come with social challenges too but autism is the main one. Do not be afraid. Get it checked out and don’t delay.
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Thank you for reading.
Onwards and upwards!
Dr. Willard & Dr. Kroncke