The Bridge of Friendship between Autism and The World
Updated: Jan 25, 2020
by Melissa Lushington, "Don't Cut Corners...Unless It's Cake" - Blog 1
Imagine yourself on your first day of school or on the job. Hands shaking, palms sweating, heart racing, legs wobbling, and more. Now, imagine yourself on that same day, but this time as an Autistic person. Nerves would double times three. Most people don’t realize the challenges that come with being autistic, especially when it comes to making connections, support teams, and a collected group of friends. However, just because it’s challenging doesn’t mean it’s impossible. The truth is that sometimes when it comes to autism, it takes the right circumstances to introduce someone to the right people in order to help that autistic person break out of their shell and make friends.
According to an article titled Autism: Symptoms & Signs, one of the symptoms of autism is not being able to engage in playing with others. This is something that I experienced personally as a child growing up without even knowing that it was one of the symptoms of autism. I remember when I was in grade school, I was isolated and alone all the time. Of course, I had friends like any other, but I was always so shy to talk to anyone or play with anyone at recess, lunch, or after school. It was a very lonely world for me to live in at a young age. Then when I started high school, an opportunity come for me when I was offered to join the drama club, in which I did for four years. Being in that group introduced me to a cast of memorable people who became lifelong friends of mine and it introduced me to two memorable teachers that I still remember to this day. Even though I still experience some shyness here and there, I’m not the same isolated person I was in grade school thanks to the opportunity I had in joining a group in high school to make life-changing friends that would help break me out of my shell and make me the person that I am today.
Transitioning from high school to college, I had to dive a bit deeper into making authentic connections. In my search, I happened upon a website that features a blog post about helping autistic individuals create friendships and connections, this website is called Autism Speaks. On this website, a blog titled Making Friends is Difficult for Individuals with Special Needs; We Have the Solution announced an interactive web application is being made to help people with autism make connection with others called Making Authentic Friendships (MAF). The goal of this program is to help enable children from ages thirteen and up as well as adults with special needs make friends. The program helps to serve individuals with intellectual and physical disabilities. It matches people up based on age, diagnosis, interests, and geographic locations. It’s a colorful user-friendly system that’s made to be accessible to users of an array of ability levels. The way this system works is like a video or online game. You make an avatar of yourself and see a list of friends that you match well with on the map. You can then click around to see what you have in common with other online users, and there’s even a messenger section that will have prompts for people to use to have conversations.
With autism being one of the fastest growing disabilities, as a way of answering the high demand to help autistic individuals make friends, many grassroots organizations have been formed. Established in 2009, Verge of Independence Project, is an online organizational project that works to help empower adults with autism. For example, in the VIP Zone Section, there’s a list which details the many ways they help empower the people of autism. For example, in the VIP Zone section the first thing mentioned is the action of voting. Verge of Independence Project encourages the act of voting because it helps empower the individual to advocate for themselves it also creates a gateway to have positive outcomes on other key platforms that will impact people of autism. The next on the list is Health and Wellness/Speech Therapy. This method created by Verge of Independence helps to provide autistic people with speech therapy sessions since having impaired communication is a common thread in the autism community. Then there’s the usage of work, which is to help people explore jobs and careers to help provide diversity and inclusion, which is exactly what this blog is about. Finally, there’s the tool of education. With Verge of Independence, they provide scholarships for people in the autism spectrum. They also help individuals learn about the preparations for postsecondary education as well as many other options that are for those who are learning differently.
In conclusion, autism can make things very challenging for those who want to make friends, but there are many ways to improve on the issue so that making friendships and connections can become easier for those with disabilities. It just takes the right moment and the right circumstances to help build the bridge of friendship for the autistic community.