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In Their Own Words – Adults Still Need Help Making Friends

May 20, 2010 23 comments

When people learn that my 23-year-old son, Matthew, has autism, the first question they ask is “is he mild or severe?” Even though I’ve been asked the question many, many times, I have a hard time answering it.

“He’s super quirky and socially inept,” I’ve been known to say, “and he wants a girlfriend in the worst way. It’s nearly impossible to make any kind of friend when you’re socially inept so I guess that makes his ‘case’ severe.”

Then I’ll give them an example. Here is my latest:

I took Matthew on a weekend trip from our home in the San Francisco Bay Area to Spokane,  Washington. He’s been obsessed with visiting every state in the U.S., and after studying his atlas, he figured we could hit Washington, Idaho and Montana all in a day with time for lunch at a place where he could order pizza and fries.

“We could even go to Canada,” I suggested.

“Canada is not a state. Only states,” Matthew replied flatly, “and we’re not going to talk about it anymore.”

As soon as our plane landed, we picked up our rental car and started our journey, listening to Roy Orbison, the Beatles and Jimmy Buffett CDs that Matthew had stowed in his backpack. There was little conversation except for when we saw state welcome signs. “WELCOME TO IDAHO!” Matthew would announce with a face-breaking smile. Those moments alone, along with the breathtaking scenery, made the trip worthwhile. I was struck by how well this trip was going. I was actually looking forward to the fact that we had another entire day to explore the area some more.

After turning around after the Montana border, I asked Matthew where we should have dinner. Idaho or Washington?

“We had lunch in Idaho. We should have dinner in Washington.”

When we arrived at out hotel in Spokane and asked for a restaurant recommendation, the trouble started.

When I planned the trip to Washington, I could never have known that the hotel I picked was also the hotel that a team of female college lacrosse players had also selected, and that they would be bouncing around the pool (right by the front desk) in bikinis. I could never have known that they would mistake handsome Matthew for a “neurotypical” 23-year-old man, and invite him to join them in the jacuzzi later. I could not have predicted that after a quick dinner in the hotel restaurant, Matthew would wait by the jacuzzi for two hours until the girls showed up, and that they would giggle nervously when they figured out that Matthew was not what they expected – and then vanish.

Once back in our hotel room, as I tried to comfort my sobbing son, I thought of all the times I had said “don’t worry. You’ll meet a nice girl someday.” It occurred to me that the only way that if Matthew was going to have any kind of a friendship with a woman, I was going to need to help him.

And I developed a plan.

To learn more about my plan, and to follow its progression, go here.

Will the road ahead be tricky? You bet! But it is worth traveling for the sake of all our kids as they face adulthood.

Wish me luck.

This “In Their Own Words” essay is by Laura Shumaker. Laura is the author of “A REGULAR GUY: GROWING UP WITH AUTISM.” Join the discussion about her book on Facebook.

If you have a story you wish to share about your personal experience with autism, please send it to editors@autismspeaks.org. Autism Speaks reserves the right to edit contributions for space, style and content. Because of the volume of submissions, not all can be published on the site.

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