Autism and Making Friends

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Today we’re going to talk about something that many autists find difficult-making friends.

When it comes to making friends there is no exact science, something which can trip up many a logically thinking autist.

It’s not that we don’t want to make friends, but we often struggle to navigate the social playing field, sometimes choosing our own company to avoid the various trials and tribulations of social interaction.

There are no set rules when it comes to friendship, and we just can’t seem to wrap our brains around it.

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In my own experience, I found that connecting with my peers was a real barrier to formulating friendships in school. We had different tastes in music and film, were interested in different hobbies, wanted different things, held opposing beliefs etc. I found it really challenging to find common ground to converse on.

Making friends isn’t the easiest of tasks, but there are some things that I’ve learned over the years to make the process a little less challenging :

  • Take classes- I found that dance classes were a great social outlet as a child. I partnered up with different children, got invited to a lot of birthday parties (although I have many memories of wandering off to be by myself! πŸ˜› ) and it helped with my coordination. Speech and drama classes can also be very useful in helping to build your confidence and social skills.
  • Try to find common ground with your peers. When in conversation, ask the other person about TV shows, bands, films, sports etc. you may be surprised at what you have in common.
  • Don’t be discouraged if you’re struggling to connect with your peers- I was 11 before I truly made a lasting friendship, and it wasn’t until college that I finally felt that I belonged socially. The average school-goer can often be small minded when it comes to befriending people who dare to be different. While some amazing efforts are being made to de-stigmatize and embrace autism in the younger generation, there will always be some who rebel against difference. Forget the haters- there are so much better people out there who are worthy of your friendship πŸ™‚

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  • Try not to compare yourself to your neurotypical peers- We all make friends in different ways, prefer different types and sizes of social groups. What seems to work for others may not work for you. Social mimicry may seem logical, buuuutt, it doesn’t always work.
  • Be yourself- As cheesy as it sounds, it’s true! πŸ˜› I have spent many a year feigning interest in matters that I thought my peers would respond to, but when I stayed true to myself, that’s when I discovered true friendship. True friends love you for you πŸ™‚

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  • And if that all fails, you can always do what I do- bake to make friends! Nothing like a plate of home made sugary goodness to create a lasting impression πŸ˜‰ Even if you burn it, you’ll still get a funny story out of it! As I’ve grown into adulthood, the stories of my many mishaps have become quite the conversation starter πŸ˜› πŸ˜‰

If things don’t work out, don’t be so hard on yourself about it. Not all friendships are built to last. One of the biggest mistakes that I make is to hyper-analyse why a friendship breaks down in my efforts to understand where I went wrong to avoid future problems. Whilst yes, social lessons can be taken from past experiences, there’s no use in torturing yourself about it- you may not even have made a misstep.

Sometimes, these things just happen.

But that does not mean that you should not try again. The social complexities of formulating friendship can be overwhelming, but the reward is great πŸ™‚

I have been so blessed in the friends that I have made in my lifetime, people who love and accept me as I am- even embracing my quirks.

Sometimes people are not always the most accepting of those who dare to be themselves, but that doesn’t mean that you do not belong socially. It took me years to find my pack, but in the end, I found my place πŸ™‚

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Have a great week everyone! πŸ˜€

Aoife

Autism on Screen- Sesame Street: Meet Julia

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Earlier this week, popular children’s TV showΒ Sesame Street officiallyΒ debuted a new puppet with a twist- a puppet with autism! πŸ˜€ The character of Julia was introduced as part of Sesame Street’s autism initiative, first appearing on Monday to rave reviews from fans, experts and parents everywhere.

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Whilst only making the news in recent months, Julia has in actual fact been around since 2015, having first appeared in an online storybook about autism as part of ‘Sesame Street’s’ autism initiative- ‘Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children’.

The creators of Sesame Street established this initiative in 2015 in order to promote better understanding of the condition after a study revealed that children with autism are more than five times more likely to be bullied than their peers!! This initiative was developed in partnership with autism workers, advocates, parents and autists themselves in order to ensure that the topic is handled in the best possible way.

You can find out more about the initiativeΒ here:

http://autism.sesamestreet.org/

It’s a nifty little website providing videos for kids, videos for parents, daily routine cards and loads of other useful materials for children and adults alike πŸ™‚

So what is Julia actually like?

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Julia first appears onscreen quietly painting with her friends Elmo, the fairy Abby Cadabby and Alan. When Big Bird comes on the scene, Julia largely ignores him, completely engrossed in her painting. The other puppets are engaging in finger painting, but Julia makes noises of disgust and uses a paintbrush instead, with Abby remarking that Julia hates the feeling of paint on her fingers.

With their paintings finished, Abby gives Julia’s painting huge praise (it was easily better than Abby and Elmo’s efforts), remarking that she is very creative- casually demonstrating the talents that autists possess without veering into savant stereotypes. Big Bird tries to hive five Julia for her efforts, but still she ignores him, making no eye contact. When Julia hops off to play tag with the other puppets, Big Bird questions whether Julia likes him or not. This leads Alan to explain autism to Big Bird so that he understands that Julia does things a little differently, “in a Julia sort of way“- but she’s also lots of fun! πŸ™‚

Later in the episode, Julia hears nearby sirens and covers her ears in response to the noise, needing to go somewhere quiet for a bit, subtly demonstrating how an autist can struggle with sensory sensitivity. Julia also carries around Fluster, a rabbit toy which she strokes to help her calm down, showing the audience ‘stimming’ in action.

The primary focus of this segment is to demonstrate that although Julia has autism, she can play and be your friend just like everyone else. After Big Bird remarks that Julia is not like any friend he’s ever had before, Elmo and Abby point out that none of them are exactly the same, bird, monster, fairy- they are all different, but are friends regardless. Julia talks a little differently, repeats sentences, flaps her arms when she gets excited- but she’s just another playmate, however different, at the end of the day πŸ™‚

You can watch Julia’s debut in full in the video below Β πŸ™‚ :

My school life would have been so much easier had other children been better able to understand and accept me as the other puppets accept Julia, but with initiatives like this at work I have great hope for the next generation πŸ™‚

This episode was handled both sensitively and intelligently to provide children everywhere with an insight into autism. All behaviours are explained, little is left for the audience to guess at. Julia is different to the other puppets yes, but the episode normalizes her differences so that when children encounter real people like Julia, they will be treated with acceptance and understanding πŸ™‚

Here’s a behind the scenes look at how the character was brought to life:

Fun Fact: Julia’s puppeteer (who can be seen in this video thumbnail) is a mother to an autistic son in reality!

This was a pleasure to watch and I look forward to seeing all of Julia’s future adventures in the show! πŸ™‚

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Aoife

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