Autism and Friendship #Write31Days

Welcone to day one of #Write31Days for 2017. This month’s theme on my blog is autism. One of the most characteristic impairments in autism, at least according to diagnostic criteria, is an impairment in social interaction skills. In DSM-IV, the diagnostic manual under which I was originally diagnosed, failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level was one of the impairmetns under the social interaction deficits criterion. “Peer relatioships” refers mostly to friendships, though I reckon it can refer to romantic relationships in adolescents and adults too. Today, I will discuss how autism impaacts my understanding of friendship.

Many years ago, I read an article by famous autism expert Tony Attwood on the topic of development of friendship skills. A typically developing child starts to develop friendship skills at around age three. They realize that friendship requires some level of turn-taking but their approach to this is egocentric, based on for example sharing of material goods or playing together. When someone asks why a person is the child’s friend, the child at this stage would typically respond: “Because they live next door.”

Children between age three and six are typically at this level. Autistic children (and in a way even adults) typically remain at this level longer. When I was nine, for example, I’d consider someone a friend because they gave me candy. Admittedly, I’m still at this level in a way, though I realize this is inappropriate. For example, when my now husband said that he was in love with me, I wasn’t sure whether to reciprocate it, since I didn’t know whether I liked him just because he was the only one who’d visit me in the psychiatric hospital. Also, I still can’t sem to move away from materialistic aspects of friendship like sharing candy.

At around age six, typically developing children move into the next level of friendship skills, which is based on shared interests and games. When asked why someone is a child’s friend, a child at this stage would say: “Because they let me play the games I want to”, “Because they’re nice to me”, etc. I relate to this level of friendship too.

Another criterion of autism in DSM-IV was lack of social reciprocity. This means that an autistic person doesn’t understand age-appropriate rules of give-and-take. Many autistic people can come across rather self-centered. So do I. For exampel, I rarelys hared candy (here we go again!) in the institution, even thoug I did accept it from others when offered. Give-and-take, however, seems not just based on material things and there aren’t many clear-cut rules for it.

I have a rather literal interpretation of reciprocity: when my husband, for example, gives me something, be it material or immaterial, I have to give him the same back. As such I feel extremely bad about being dependent on my husband for many things, like transportation, food, etc. He says that I give him love in return, but I barely understand the concept of love.

4 thoughts on “Autism and Friendship #Write31Days

  1. Astrid:

    Fortunately the Attwood model is not the only model of friendship, and it has flaws even for the typically developing.

    In that it relies on what children say verbally, and what they say to adults.

    There are a lot of “secret” or “hidden” qualities of friendship and reciprocal relationships.

    I read about a Romanian orphan who was not invited twice to their schoolmates’ house.

    And we assume and we know that in other developmental conditions friendships approximate the “normal” rate and sequence [behaviourist talk again – Attwood is a cognitivist, quite broadly]. And also the feelings and affection and valence involved.

    So people might like to know “What is special about having an autistic friend or friends in my life?”

    And a lot of younger people think of numbers and quantities and groups.

    There is a six-year-old called Ruby who is thinking about this now. It was in the Thinking Persons’ Guide to Autism.

    Attwood does have some good things about skills and skill development.

    He did say “self-centred” rather than “selfish” in 1998 at the Hobart Conference where Autism Tasmania put on quite a show. And there was an Australian-Singapore collaboration.

    And some people might go straight to the “shared interest” stage of friendship if “playing together” is not accessible or available.

    “I barely understand the concept of love”.

    One thing which was important in the Attwood – do you ever give a long list of what friends should not do to or with you?

    yes – romantic relationships are peer relationships.

    Peers = equals.

    Developmental level = this relies on so much and makes so many assumptions. You know that I am not a developmentalist!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, manyofus1980:

      Here is the link to which I referred to earlier about this young woman’s concepts of friendship [you might as well get on the ground and get to know as many autistics as possible!]:

      The young lady’s name is Penny and she has a brother Hank.

      And, yes, the *concepts* are difficult, especially to verbalise and articulate in a way which would satisfy scientists.

      And it is a perspective of a person who you have loved and known for many years now. And a practice.

      One big thing about friendship for me is not proximity [many of my friends were far away from me geographically and spiritually especially as a child] but priority [we put each other and our needs and shared relationship first].

      And when I read this book called ODD GIRL OUT I received insights into very indirect and dysfunctional relationships among middle- and upper-middle-class USians who were usually white – there were other black and Latino friendships which stood out for solidarity individually and within subcultures and friendship groups. And they had a good vocabulary for friendship and ways to call out bullying which were in keeping with feminist principles.

      Liked by 1 person

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