If you have certain disabilities, for example Asperger syndrome, chances are pretty good you think friendships are finicky intangibles, too often tinted with colors you can’t see, much less understand. I have Asperger syndrome, an invisible disability that very often leaves people under the impression I’m not friendship worthy. I’m rather blunt, literal minded, overly enthralled by my own interests and easily bothered by most every bit of sensory information you could imagine. None of these traits give the best first impression light on my character.
But truth be told, I rarely have the need for deep friendships that take more than a tidbit of planning or energy. And if super fine diplomacy and much theory of mind are necessary to complete the transaction, then I’ll likely ditch out of the deal. But when the planets align, I get delighted about the thought of a friendship forming. The question for me becomes, what can I do to actually find a friend? Where can I go? Should I disclose my challenges? Will I be safe? Towards some sort of answer, I’ve compiled a Seven Steps to Friendship list. Here’s hoping you find them helpful.
1. Share your story with potential friends. In other words, don’t hide behind your disability. I find if you’re open and honest about your challenges and exceptionalities, other people will soon share theirs and presto, you’ll all find you have more in common than anyone may have imagined.
2. Don’t be afraid or hesitant to be the force that breaks barriers. Any place without wheelchair accessibility, handrails, good lighting, easy to maneuver doors, safe areas away from sensory overloads, nearby security, fire safeguards, clearly marked directional signs, etc., is not a place I’d venture to. No one should. Work with the media or trusted friend to get all establishments to welcome all people so that no one is left out of any opportunity!
3. Let groups that empower and educate people with disabilities help you figure out the tricks behind society’s hedge. For example, my Asperger’s syndrome makes it hard for me to read other people, so I often ask a peer to help me figure out the mores’ and expectations of a group I’d like to meet. A person with a learning disability may struggle with directions, so they could need help and practice figuring out public transportation or the easiest way to get somewhere. A person with no sight might need help putting together an outfit for a special event. There is no end to the list of things we may need to learn before we even get to the potential friend!
4. Work with caregiving groups to create more disability friendly experiences. Think: culinary experiences for the blind, competitive events for people with missing limbs, unique nature adventures for people in wheelchairs, model train building classes for people with no hearing. The ideas are as endless as our imaginations. And if you actually create the event, you’re pretty much guaranteed a chance to meet a possible friend.
5. Self-advocate for yourself. Don’t be the wallflower, be the flower. Find ways to illustrate your personality, what you have to offer, and how worthy you are. Show a special talent, your interests, your intellect and/or your love for life. Believe in yourself and let that confidence draw friends to your side.
6. Volunteer your time, energies and ideas. I’ve never left a volunteer event without having passed at least some time with a kindred spirit or good person.
7. Demand respect. Take nothing less than kindness and genuine attitudes. No friends are far better than false friends and that’s a fact!
Good friendships provide much of the power behind a healthy self-esteem and a happy day. Use your intellect to find them, your determination to ignite them and your kindness to keep them.
Professor Liane Holliday Willey, who holds a doctorate in psycholinguistics, was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome when she was 35 years old. Since her diagnosis, Liane has focused her academic research on females with Asperger syndrome and communication skills for people on the spectrum.
Liane is the author of the new book Safety Skills for Asperger Women: How to Save a Perfectly Good Female Life, and the author of the international best selling books Pretending to be Normal: Living with Aspergers Syndrome, Asperger Syndrome in Adolescence: Living with the Ups, the Downs and Things in Between, Asperger Syndrome in the Family: Redefining Normal. She is also the Senior Editor of Autism Spectrum Quarterly, a blogger for Psychology Today and a consultant with B.R.A.I.N.S. – the Behavioral Resources and Institute for Neuropsychological Services. Liane has been featured in USA Today, The Associated Press, The New York Times, The LA Times, The Washington Post, Autism One Radio, Oxygen TV, several NPR stations and many other media outlets.