“He needs to figure out lunch just like everyone else, Amanda,” someone said to me not long ago.
I was embarrassed. Of course he does. Who am I to try and arrange social engagements and ask her son to reach out to mine? I felt so foolish. “Here comes that helicopter mom again,” I imagined her thinking.
She went on to urge me to stop being such a victim, and she was right in so many ways.
So I walked away in shame and her words haunted me for a long while.
But then it hit me. This is AUTISM. The autism of the high functioning kind.
This is the autism where your disability is hidden beneath the depths of your laugh and your cute curly hair.
Challenges with social communication and interaction are hallmarks of high functioning autism. That’s what makes understanding autism so difficult. It is hidden. And confusing. And, well, sometimes a little weird.
With high functioning autism, there is no wheelchair. Here, the broken leg is invisible, and you most likely do not get the support that a wheelchair could bring.
Make no mistake: autistic kids desperately want friends. They want to belong and they want to be known just like everyone else does. They just don’t know how to go about it successfully.
Take the lunchroom, for example. Most typically developing kids deal with lunchtime insecurities and social challenges from time to time. Yet it is painfully more stressful and more frequent and more severe for kids on the spectrum.
My son used to tell me that he’d find a seat with his buddies, they would get up to get their food and then not come back to the same seats. Or he’d come back and his seat was taken and he couldn’t figure out where to sit. He couldn’t keep up with conversations. He didn’t know how to interject and laugh along and engage in typical two-way conversations. There was too much noise, too many moving parts.
A lot of the time, he was just confused. A lot of the time, he was sad.
When he was younger, he would sit at the peanut free table with his super best friend, even though his diet consisted of ONLY peanut butter. He’d throw away the sandwich and go without just to eat with his friend. In the younger years, it was a little easier to fit in. Things were a simpler back then.
But as typically developing kids grow in awareness and social skills, Aspie kids just don’t develop the same way. Their growth takes a markedly different path. At a time when a young teen’s world should be growing bigger, an Aspie’s world grows smaller.
They might insist on keeping everything the same. Or develop a questionable obsession with a new video game. Refuse to try something new or even leave the house.
Most assuredly, the young Aspie finds an uncomfortable, growing awareness that they are just so very different.
And the world grows even more confusing.
And it’s just easier to eat lunch alone in the library.
When it comes to typically developing peers, Aspie development is the path that snails take, it seems.
I remember picking my son up from a middle school dance, seeing all the kids come out in little packs, all heading to sleep overs, and mine would come out last, insisting on fulfilling his student council duties and picking up the last of the trash. He came out alone, got in the car just overwhelmed.
“Why is everyone all in groups mom?” he cried. “I just walked around alone all night.”
Everything is so confusing. Everything is so exhausting.
But one thing is for sure: these kids know when they are left behind. See, that is the challenge of the high functioning kind. They know.
These kids are strong. They are tough. And they persevere far beyond what is seen only to move inches forward and see everyone else ahead in the distance.
And I suspect, they grow a bit weary over the years.
High functioning autism is so deceitful.
But, he will figure it out eventually, I suppose?