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Reader Wisdom: What a boy with Asperger’s taught me about friendship and being different

Published: December 17, 2013 | By | 3 Replies Continue Reading
Carol, a retired paraeducator shares the lessons she learned about Asperger’s, friendship and being different.

In response to a prior blog post from a young woman with Asperger’s Syndrome who questioned whether she really needed friendships, Carol, a retired educator shares the wise lessons she learned about friendship and being different–from a boy with similar challenges.

I had the experience of being a paraeducator (a school employee who works under the supervision of a teacher) with a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome for almost four years. I met him when he was in sixth grade and he helped me to learn of his challenges with this syndrome. To make a very wonderful story short, I think he is going to graduate, leaving high school with many, many people who would call him a friend. He may not use that term, but he does it his own way.

In my heart, I feel his best friends are his family members who are there for him and made the effort early on when there was not much known about Asperger’s. I feel he does friendships on his own terms and for me I think it’s the way we all need to do them.

As his paraeducator, I have continued to have healthy boundaries with him. I like to know how he’s doing in his life but do not hang out with him or his family. He is well-known at his high school and because he ventured out to interact with classmates and the teaching staff. He is respected as a human being who may not be like everyone else, but he is uniquely himself. Isn’t that the goal in life, to meet people who care about you for this reason? Because they want you to be yourself?

The students who have been given the gift of knowing him and learning about his challenges will go out into to the world with the ability to meet other young adults with Asperger’s or other personality challenges (we all have them) and be more open to knowing them and becoming friends.

We have all kinds of connections if we are lucky. Some people are advisors, some people are supporters, some people who we can play with and have fun, some people with whom we count on to be there for us, others we just say “Hi” to as we pass by each other in life.

I am retired now, but worked with Special Education students for over twenty years. This was a new assignment for me and as it turned out, the most interesting student and one I will never forget. He had so much courage to get out of bed every day and come to school. This is how it is for any of us who are “different” in other people’s eyes. Thank goodness students are no longer segregated from others and we are all beginning to see we are more alike than different. The point being we are all human beings.

I once read that if a person doesn’t experience anxiety in life, they won’t experience freedom. Stepping up and finding who and what you want to find when you feel freedom from judgments (another human trait we all have), will allows us to find out what is important in our lives. This boy taught me what courage really is: Be brave, be yourself.

Click here to read the original post: I don’t seem to care about friendships. Should I?

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  1. Sheryl says:

    I’ve always thought that it takes a very special person to teach children with special needs. There’s such empathy and wisdom in this post.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hello, Carol:

    Thank you for your service to students with special needs in the Special School District, and for your concept of the different forms that friendships can take. I’m the mom of a beautiful, precious 14 year-old girl who is diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum (ASD) and I’m suspected to have an ASD, myself. Both my daughter and I have major challenges in both making and keeping friends, in making small talk, social anxiety, and discerning nonverbal communication. Like myself, H. has no close friends, and is paralyzed in being able to start and keep conversations going. My current fractured friendship with an Internet friend is especially devastating to me because I thought D. was the only one in my life who understood me about my ASD concerns. I grew up going to many Special School settings. Schools have vastly improved today as well as the awareness and the diagnostic tools for autism and other disabilities. Being over 50, I’m still trying to feel like I belong and that I have a place in this world, but hopefully, my daughter will have a better chance at both friendship and success than her mom. Kids today have much more to deal with, but they have far more tools and resources and opportunities to face them I think.

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