While delivering our Autism Demystification programs at a local school, a wonderful grade four student on the autism spectrum said, “Don’t want friends”.
During recess, I watched as this same child walked around the playground beside the EA (education assistant). While his same aged peers were completely engaged in peer social play, he stayed close to the safety of the adult.
This is not the first time an individual on the autism spectrum has spoken these words to me. If you take the phrase, “Don’t want friends” literally, you would assume that he does not want to engage with his same aged peers. However, I’m certain this child’s words were not literal; on the contrary, I believe his words meant so much more.
He may be saying:
The response, “Don’t want friends” is likely triggered by negative emotional memories. Many individuals on the autism spectrum have tried (often repeatedly) and failed to engage their same aged peers. This constant failure creates negative feelings of isolation and rejection. When individuals on the autism spectrum repeatedly fail, over time, they give up and withdraw to the safety of adults. Replacing peer relationships with adult relationships is a very common occurrence in the world of autism. Unfortunately, adults cannot provide the important social, emotional and lifelong skills that peers can.
Therefore, when supporting individuals on the autism spectrum our focus should be on demystifying peers. Helping peers to understand, accept and empathize with their peers with autism, making peer play and friendships possible.
“Peers are a necessity not a luxury in human development” Hartup