Home > Family Services, In Their Own Words > In Their Own Words – Adults Still Need Help Making Friends

In Their Own Words – Adults Still Need Help Making Friends

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.

  1. Michelle Scott-Lewing
    May 20, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    Laura, the story you shared about your trip was bittersweet. I have had those special moments with my son, and also experienced his pain when people make fun of him.
    Recently, we were in Starbucks (he loves a double chocolate chip frappuccino), and he was making hand gestures in the air, which is really him imagining out loud. A couple of young girls in their late teens began mimmicking him, and laughing at him. His heart was broken. He shared that with me this way, “Mom, it hurts right here…it feels like my heart is bursting, and it doesn’t fit anymore”.

    So did mine.

  2. Donna Falague
    May 21, 2010 at 10:27 am

    As a Mom of a 13-year old Autistic boy, I commiserate with you on that experience. Whenever we’re on a public place and he sees girls, he will come to them and look at them but they treated my son like he has a contagious disease, even if i told them his condition, very sad moments for both the mother and the son with autism. I wanted to tell them it’s not his fault to have that disability ,and that they should also be treated fairly.

  3. chris english
    May 21, 2010 at 10:28 am

    Thank you for your blog. I am a Mother of almost 16 yr old Son with Autism. He has Aspergers Syndrome and as you know he is also socially inept. I am just trying to get through puberty. Its great to see I will get my mild mannered son back soon. God Bless you on your journey!!

  4. Lucille Rossi
    May 21, 2010 at 11:48 am

    My son is 23 and autistic. People think because he is so friendly that he can’t be autistic, they don’t understand . I am fortunate that he is gentle and kind and has made so much progress but I can relate to the above stories. I have to pay people to take him out, he wants friends and it breaks my heart too when he asks me why
    he can’t have a girlfriend, drive and do all the things that young people can do. So when people say he isn’t severe, in part that is true, but also they should try to understand that these kids need our love and understanding and shouldn’t be made fun of. I am fortunate that my step daughter is so good to him, she includes him and introduces him to her friends, wish all young people could be as kind.

  5. Lisa Gonzales
    May 21, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    Thanks for your blog as I can relate…my son is 16 and we’ve encountered the “when am I going to have friends, girlfriend” and the one that broke my heart, “when is someone going to love me”.

  6. Cheryl Skinner aka Alan's Mom
    May 21, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    Simply stated, “Thank you, Laura.” Our son Alan, 27, has Autism, Tourette Syndrome & Seizure Disorder. We can empathize with each of your experiences …and more.

  7. Eileen Hand
    May 21, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    Dear Laura, Our son, Matthew is 19 years old. He also has autism. He is lonely for someone to talk to. Like all of us, he needs a friend. I look forward to reading your next article on the Autism Speaks Official Blog. May 21, 2010.

  8. Dana
    May 22, 2010 at 8:14 am

    This is a sweet story, but I’m confused. This blog is called “In their own words” but central person in this story didn’t write it. Why didn’t Matthew write this blog? It sounds like he has verbal skills. Maybe he wouldn’t write in a style as linguistically sophisticated as his mother, but at least then this article would be about being autistic “in his own words” instead of someone looking from the outside in. Matthew is an adult. Maybe it would help more to start treating him like one. You may have guessed that I’m an adult on the spectrum myself. We are everywhere. We are quirky, too. We have every ability to be loving in adult relationships and to talk about our own experiences.

    • autismspeaks
      May 22, 2010 at 11:22 am

      Dana – we call it “In Their Own Words” and specify who the author is. We post many essays in this category by people have have autism, as well as ones by their family members and loved ones. If you would like to submit one, please send it to editors@autismspeaks.org. We aim to show all perspectives – individuals, parents, siblings, etc.

  9. May 22, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    I love how you tell it “How it is” but most of all I love how you continue to move forward in helping your son continue to maximize his potential.
    You never stop beliving in Mathew and helping him learn what appears to come so easy to other young typical adults.
    As always, you inspire me

  10. Jay Newman
    May 22, 2010 at 6:07 pm

    Laura: We have a 26 y/o Matthew. He always wanted a girl friend, or for that matter, a friend. He would get in trouble when any girl showed him some attention, he would mistake this for “love”. Needless to say, this resulted in trouble many times over. He now lives on his own, with a girl he met who has cerebral palsy. She dotes on him, and they mesh well together. Is it ideal? Probably not, but they truly love each other and enjoy each others company.

  11. Catherine Kenney
    May 22, 2010 at 9:29 pm

    I am so interested in linking up with the author of this book and article. I have a 19 year old son, same issues. Please e-mail me. Thanks, Catherine

  12. Nancy Allison
    May 22, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    My son is 23 with HFA and has the same issues. He would love to have a girlfriend. He was at his lowest last New Year’s Eve, when he cried and said he felt so alone. As many children move into adulthood, there should be groups, but our area does not have one. I hope that in my lifetime, I am able to see him truly happy.

  13. May 23, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    Our son, Nick is 20 this June and although goes full time to college and majors in Chemical Engineering, he struggles in the same way, almost identically to this story! He has high-functioning autism diagnosed at 2 1/2. It is heartbreaking for a mother to see him go day to day trying to “fit in” and being aware enough to know he really never will. As he has gotten older, the gap between he and his peers has gotten even wider. In high school, they dated, played sports, went out with friends, etc. etc. He really didn’t, very little anyway, and now they are moving away from home, going to school, dating, going on missions for our church, and now getting married while Nick still struggles to even talk to a girl or make a friend. These are things he wants so desperately and doesn’t know how to go about doing them. It affects everything, our family including our 3 other children, and most of all it affects his self-esteem. And it doesn’t help that he doesn’t take care of himself (eating habits, grooming, hygiene, etc). And not taking care of himself only makes it worse. Nick has had many, many successes, as do all of our kids, but this seems to be where we need to work hard for our kids to have success in the area of social ‘norms’.

    How can we all be in the “same boat” but not in the “SAME boat”. Is there a nationwide ‘adult’ support group??? I know where we live in Utah, there is very little in the way of ‘family support’. We have some things and some services that are great, but it is so discouraging and disheartening to see all these wonderful amazing people “getting through life” (if that). If they had each other and something to look forward to and could show what they CAN do and how they CAN contribute to society in a positive way it would benefit the entire world. They are incredible people.

    Nick asked me the other day, “Mom do you know what it’s like to always be the ‘different’ one? I am always the one they ignore or make fun of.” I said, “Yes, but not like you have ever felt.” Do you know how heartbroken I was?? And how helpless I felt?? YOU all know…that’s my point is we need each other and we need them and they need each other and they need us. And we need to pull together for THEM. If we all do this, it is only a win-win for everyone all throughout the world. We need to change this and help them know how unique and special they are and that being the ‘different’ one is okay and to make a positive difference in the world. How do we do this? I believe there needs to be more pulling together and letting them do the same with each other as much as possible. I have had a dream for years of opening up an Autism Center in Utah for family support and vocational training and social skill groups for teens and adults. How do we do that when we’re all so exhausted from raising our families and taking care of a unique child? Again, I believe it’s by pulling together and sharing the load.

    I love my son, I am so grateful to have him and for all he has taught me and I have said it many times and will continue to, “Nick has been better for me than I have been for him” and I truly mean that. I will continue to champion him each day and help him to continue to be a positive contributor to society.

    Thank you for this story!
    Tammy M.

  14. Jo
    May 24, 2010 at 10:43 am

    Hi all: I am also mom to two sons, a 25 year old with more severe autism and a 26 year old with Aspergers. Both are very handsome and I’ve had experiences with seeing girls notice them, and wishing they were able to connect. I think my younger son seems fairly satisfied with his life. He enjoys his workshop, makes enough money to buy the things he enjoys and basically seems happy. My older son is more more socially aware…so he is much more aware of all he is missing…but awkward about persuing a more active social life. He doesn’t drive and I’m not sure he should, but he feels like that is a major drawback to dating, and I guess he’s right. He is constantly on the internet when he’s not at work and I know he corresponds with many people this way, which is great, but I wish I could help him get out more. Every now and then he’ll express some frustration with his life and I feel really bad for him, but I don’t know how to help.
    I know there are some people out there who are on the autism spectrum who might object to me feeling that I need to help and if you are able to handle your own socialization, that’s fantastic. More power to you. But not everyone has developed this ability or knows how to…so I ask the other adults with autism out there what specific suggestions you might have.
    Recently my older son has found one social interaction he enjoys. It’s a book club that meets monthly for discussions. I wish I could be a “fly on the wall” to see how he is doing with the intereactions.
    I’ve often thought there should be a way to organize some kind of dating service geared to the needs of this population, but I wouldn’t know where to start. I’d love to hear of anyone else’s ideas.

  15. Kathryn
    May 24, 2010 at 7:44 pm

    I can barely type for the tears that are streanubg down my face. My 17 YO especially handsome son wants a girlfriend badly. It literally breaks my heart. What I wouldn’t give to help him through this. I will be following your blog. Thank you sofr sharing.

  16. Judy Gruenfeld
    May 28, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    I can relate all too well with your story. My son, Ronnie, who is 41 now, has been accosted by many young women. He has golden blond hair and saffire blue eyes. The conversations with these young women don’t last very long but my son, doesn’t get upset. Fortunately, I have outlets and ways for him to meet people if he so chooses. I can’t wait to hit your facebook page.

  17. Cathy Cataldo
    May 28, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    I have a son who 25 and high functioning,he graduated with honors from college.he is having the same difficultys as all of the other young adults. I was watching a older episode of Little People on TLC and it hit me,why can’t young adults with autism have a convention every year like the Little People do to meet others like them. It seems that alot of the Little People meet there future wives and husbands there. How better to meet friends and compainions like them. I hope there are others out there that think this is a good idea.

  18. Jo
    May 31, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    OK, I love this “conference” idea, especially since my son just finished up one of his rare social pleasures which is attending the Balticon (SciFi) conference here in Hunt Valley, Maryland. The conference idea works on multiple levels. It brings people with similiar challenges together, provides a platform for speakers, entertainment, vendors, SOCIALIZATION, and solves problems for people like my son, who don’t drive because it lets them all come togehter to a common spot.
    So, how can a group of interested folks make this happen?

  19. Michelle
    June 6, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    Hello, my sweet step-daughter is 23. She has absence seizures and mild autism. She is very self-conscious of her looks and chooses to stay out of the public eye for the most part for this reason along with social skill difficulties. Is there anyone with a child in her age range near Western MA that would be interested in get togethers with us for dog walking, board games, or movies…or maybe just online friendship/support?

  20. jo
    June 30, 2010 at 8:19 am

    Hi Michelle: I’ve been wrapped up with classes and vacation and just saw your posting. Has anyone replied? We live in Maryland, so we’re not in your immediate area, but I have a son who is 26 and has mild aspergers syndrome. He has a college degree with a concentration in film studies, works at out our local WalMart in the bakery, and enjoys emailing and blogging about movies/actors/directors/scifi books and films/graphic novels…would any of that be of interest to your daughter. If so I can ask my son to contact her or I can give you his email and she can decide if she wants to make contact.
    Good luck. It’s so hard for these young adults of ours to get to know people. I’m open to any ideas to help my son meet more people. He had some fair social contact when he was still in school, but not much now.

  21. November 27, 2010 at 2:06 am

    thanx a lot, realy this blog is cool..Please visit my blog as well.

  22. Heidi Yokota
    April 1, 2011 at 7:16 am

    Hi My son is almost 19 and was diagnosed with pdd-nos. Academically, he is very smart but socially, kids his age shun him. He graduated from high school last year and currently plays clarinet in a junior college symphonic band. He lives life to its’ fullest, is friendly, outgoing; but young adults his age don’t want to be friends with him because of his quirky personality characteristics. All he wants are friends. We live in the Chicago area and are moving to southern California soon. My husband and I consider our son high functioning autistic and we had the peculiar problem that he only wants to associate with high functioning autistic adults or neurotypical adults. He has alot of “friends” on facebook because most people his age shy away from him face to face. Is there anywhere an autistic adult can go to safely make friends?

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