What I Found Out From A Group of Men
I remember sharing my life story with a group of men from my church.
We shared our private struggles as well as our victories so that we could really challenge each other and grow.
We also promised that we would keep our stories confidential.
As one guy after another shared their story, I was surprised to hear that many things I thought only I struggled with, other guys struggled with too!
But when you’re alone, it’s hard to know that anyone else out there is like you.
Autistic women have too often been isolated from the rest of the autism community.
Aspergers and autism was most often studied and identified among boys and men.
But now, women across the world are being known.
Facebook groups, Wrong Planet forums, and blogs like The Autism Women’s Network are increasingly shining the spotlight on autistic women.
[For this blog post, AS will refer to Aspergerian or autistic, while NS will refer to non-spectrum]
AS women can expand and improve their friendships by learning about other AS women’s strengths and struggles with friendships.
You’re Not Alone
If you’re an AS woman, take heart and know that you’re not alone.
Your struggles to connect with NS women are echoed by women in all the forums I explored.
In an article from Spectrum News, titled Friendship Poses Unique Challenges for Women on the Spectrum, authors Liz Pellicano and Felicity Sedgewick talked about the following friendship hurdles they discovered. They reviewed research and interviewed 15 AS women and 15 NS women.
Here are some discoveries they made:
- Friendship is important for AS women (I would expect no less)
- They value sharing thoughts and emotions, having a safe space, having the support of a trusted person.
- AS relationships differ from NS relationships – while NS women tend to have a greater number of friends, AS women have fewer relationships. The relationships tend to be more intense.
- Social anxiety about uncertainty in relationships can cause AS women to keep interactions brief. NS women often interpret brief interactions as a cue that AS women don’t want to be friends, and the relationship then fades.
- When women form a relationship with an NS partner, that partner’s friends become her friends. But if the relationship ends, it can leave them isolated.
When I shared this article in the Thrivers’ Community, quite a number AS women said they could resonate so much with the content of the article.
And as I read through Wrong Planet forums where women talked about friendship, I saw all their experiences being very similar.
AS Women’s Differences Explain Why Friendship With NS Women Can Be Challenging
Interpreting NS Communication
According to Dr. Pellicano, “autistic women, in particular, may have difficulty interpreting the social subtleties friendships entail.”
Lack of Shared Interests
I also noticed over and over in Wrong Planet forums AS women talking about having more male interests, or at least interests that are much different than typical NS women’s nterests.
They mentioned that they cannot relate to NS women because of their tendency toward talking about fashion, men, and other topics that they are just not interested in.
Here are a three quotes from three different AS women:
“Often I wonder what it is like to have a real lady friend. I have nothing in common with most ladies I meet. Children, marriage, clothes, makeup etc…. don’t interest me.”
“I have one female friend but unfortunately I have moved to another city and this friendship is difficult to maintain. I find women very confusing, particularly in conversation, where either the topic is utterly boring (e.g. clothes and looking pretty), or manipulative (e.g. playing off social interactions and trying to get me to take sides). I find women physically confusing, as they wear makeup which changes their faces, and clothes which change their bodies. Men seem more physically real. ”
“To sum everything up I should say that I’m pretty feminine when it comes to my looks but far from girly when it comes to my interests.”
AS Women Can and Do Form Friendships with Other Women
Sure, AS women are different than NS women.
However, they have a lot in common with them as well!
I don’t mean to imply that friendship issues are “one size fits all” when it comes to addressing this topic.
Becoming Comfortable With Who You Are
Here’s a perspective from one Wrong Planet woman member:
” I spent years and years and years working to stifle my “inappropriate” honesty, but recently I’m starting to reclaim it as the only sane way to live in the world. I’m also starting–slowly–to drop a lot of the social things I’ve always done in order to make sure no one thought I was too weird. Truth is, I’m an introverted autistic, and no, I really actually DON’T want to do all that stuff, and while I like you, Friend Who Called Me, I really actually don’t all that much care how you are doing and what you’ve been up to. Call me when you’re ready to talk about science fiction, or mathematics, or philosophy; don’t call me again, ever, “just to chat.” (No, I haven’t managed to be this bold yet, but I’m working on it.) “
Here’s another experience (and I apologize, I don’t recall whether this was a Thrivers member or a Wrong Planet member:
“Something that took me many years to learn was that once I accepted myself for the autistic woman I am in life and stopped doing all the things people had tried to teach me in regard to making friends I noticed I did have friends! It was ironic that when I hit a place in my life where I didn’t care so much about making friends that I had them! In fact, many days it seems that I have more people than I can interact with on a-day to-day basis.”
Amy Sequenzia, an AS woman who writes for the Autism Women’s Network, wrote:
“Most of my friends I met online first. Some I still have to meet in person. Sharing information through a computer is, to me, safe and comfortable. Despite some progress concerning my self-esteem, I still get anxious when I meet someone for the first time. Because I need so much help, because of how I move, I feel like I will disappoint.
So far, this has been only in my head. My friends, so different from me, so seemingly “better” than me, know what it means to be assumed to be a lesser person, or to not need accommodations, based on appearances.
Every time I meet one of these friends, I am happily proved wrong about my fears. They all seem happy to see me, they are not judgmental and they say they wish we could spend more time together. I know I would like to spend a lot of time with them.
Recently, I had a chance to meet some of these online friends, many of them for the first time. From the moment I arrived until the minute I said my last goodbye, I was overwhelmed with emotion. Meeting many friends at the same time, having a chance to talk to them face to face, seeing in them the same joy I was feeling, freely being my complex autistic self, I felt I belonged.”
A Call To Action
After putting this all together, I’ve got the following thoughts.
- Yes, friendships can be hard. You may have difficulty understanding communication, there may be social anxiety and some rejection along the way.
- But you may find connections in the funniest places. It may be online, in communities on Facebook, or with the Thriver’s community (our closed, secret Facebook group), or via a blog that you may write.
- And those friendships that you form can end up being rich and worthwhile, as Amy Sequenzia and Judy Endow have discovered.
- Remember that what you focus on tends to grow. For example, at the beginning of this year I set a goal to form a group of other men I could connect with, form friendships, and grow and challenge each other together. Soon after setting this goal, I discovered an acquaintance in a mutual Facebook group, and we talked about getting together. Since then, we’ve been meeting once a month for breakfast, and our friendship is growing. You can do the same: set a goal, and see what happens.
Photo by Roberto Nickson (@g) on Unsplash