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.