Autism

Making Friends on the Spectrum

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1963-gnshs-yearbook

Dear Don, You did try awfully hard… I’ll miss you very, very much… maybe it was all for the best. I doubt it, but MAYBE. Love,

I remember reading this inscription in my high school yearbook as if it was yesterday. My school assigned homerooms alphabetically, so I sat next to this girl for three years. I never imagined that she cared who I was. It was high school. We were in different groups.

This is how it goes for me. Introverted and on the spectrum, making friends is a mystery, and identifying friends that I have is still as much a surprise as it was over 50 years ago.

During my teen years, my mother who had similar struggles passed on some advice she’d read in a book. “You can’t meet anyone if you stay at home.”

I took this advice to heart. I remember attending school dances where I initially sat alone. In later years, some people sat with me. A strong recollection was a dance where I spent the entire time expounding on tesseracts. Yes, I was that guy.

In retrospect, the people in that group must have been my friends, but that was lost on me and I never made any overtures to spend time with them.

Over the years, that single piece of advice dominated my relationships. I showed up, but rarely sought or recognized one-on-one relationships. Unfortunately for me, I went to a virtually single-sex college with little opportunity for my low-key approach to have much success with women.

That said I’ve had successes. I’ve been married for over 45 years, have a nice family, and had a successful career. At work, I spent enough time with people to make friends. I also learned to recognize my friends. I developed a small cadre of people interested in working with me and together we formed a small itinerant band of engineers and managers moving from one start-up to another in Silicon Valley.

Still today, my primary way to meet people is to show up. Every day I walk around my neighborhood and after five years, people know who I am and wave, talk and smile. These are my friends. I am a substitute teacher. The other day at the county fair, some college students recognized me and came up to say hello. In a similar way, a parent stopped me on my walk and told me how much her child liked me as a teacher.

In conclusion, I found how to meet people and make friends even though I still have difficulty reading reactions and asserting myself in interpersonal relationships.