Updated: Jan 15, 2022
By Melissa Lushington, "Don't Cut Corners...Unless It's Cake" - Blog Series Vol. 3, Slice #1
Photo Credit: Unsplash/Kelly Sikkema
When I first started writing blogs for the Verge of Independence Project: Multimedia Autism Advocacy Organization two years ago, the very first blog I wrote about was autism and friendships. I talked about my personal experiences of having friends as a child but being too shy, awkward, and socially intimidated to interact with them. I also spoke about how being in drama club back in high school helped make authentic friendships by helping me get a little better with eye contact and trying to initiate conversations with people. I transferred these skills well in college due to making plenty of friendships with people that I will never forget and appreciate. One of those friendships from college stands out to me the most, and it will always be cherished, remembered, and valued in my heart. Her name is Jazelle(Jazz) Cruz, and the story of our friendship resonates with a children's book that came out on March 3, 2020, My Best Friend.
Written by Author Julie Fogliano and Illustrator Jillian Tamaki, My Best Friend tells a simple story of two little girls who meet at a park for the first time, become instant friends, have a brief montage of adventures together. One of them narrates the story of that experience (specifically the girl with red hair). This story resonates with me because Jazelle and I became instant friends when we first met on September 6, 2018. It happened in the classroom before class started. We took the college course of Voice Articulation together, and Jazelle talked to our classmates about theater and following your dreams. I was so fascinated by what she said that I went over to the table to get to know her. In the book, the narrator describes her new friend as having shiny black hair, laughing at everything, and being very smart. When I first met Jazelle, she had long black hair and was very smart, but she was also very kind and always said positive, thoughtful things about me. The book talked about the many adventures that the girls experienced in a short amount of time. It reminded me of the good times that Jazelle and I participated in the short time we had during the 2018 fall semester, such as taking pictures together, going to Dunkin Doughnuts, helping each other with schoolwork, and attending school theatrical productions together.
Once again, in the book, there's a line in which the narrator explains the moment she first realized that she made a best friend, stating, "[…] I think she is a really good best friend because when we were drawing, she drew me and I drew her, and then we made hearts around it […]." This made me think about the moment that I knew that Jazelle would be my best friend, which was on the first day that I met her. During the first conversation we had, I noticed that we had a lot of things in common, such as theater, poetry, and our birthdays are in March. Also, when I told Jazelle my last name, she gave me flattering heartfelt compliments about it by saying that it's unique and special.
Photo Credit: Unsplash/Jess Bailey
Finally, the narrator mentions something in the book that not only resonates with me, but it compelled me to write this blog post when it states, "…she is my best friend I think, I never had a best friend before so I'm not sure…". This resonates with me because before I met Jazelle, I'd had best friends in school but could never keep up with them due to the separation of moving away. This is common for autistic individuals because they struggle to maintain friendships. It's also common for autistic individuals to work on having friendships for multiple reasons. Still, it's also because of the complications with communications and the expectations that come
with it, which will cause anxiety. An article titled, 10 reasons people with autism struggle with friendships, describes the difficulties of what autistic individuals go through when making friends when it states, "Social interactions can be baffling for people that are autistic. They may become easily overwhelmed or frustrated when developing and sustaining friendships. Making friends can be frightening, confusing, and anxiety-provoking Photo Credit: Unsplash/Sajad Nori
for autistic young people."
In closing, the reason why I'm writing this blog is to underscore that connections matter. For those in the autism community, connections matter to us just as much as they would for anybody else. As I stated in my previous blog, autistic individuals want to make friends and meaningful connections with others. Unfortunately, it's just more challenging for us to do that due to the complications of communications and social interactions. Therefore, part of my New Year's Resolution is to continue making meaningful friendships with people both in-person and online, and I hope that yours is to do the same as well. In addition, I look forward to the Verge of Independence Project hosting a communication and multimedia five-week virtual workshop series to help those of us in the autism community develop and strengthen our communication.
Photo Credit: Unsplash/Shane Rounce
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