Tag Archives: friendship

Who Needs Friends?


If you listened to last weeks podcast you would have heard Christine Draper explain that her son Luke doesn’t have friends. This is due in part to his dyspraxia, which made it difficult for him to develop a network of friends when he was young and do the things boys his age did. As a consequence, he never made friends when he was younger and so now doesn’t actually miss not having friends

I’ve talked quite a bit before about the importance of friendships to me. My friends particularly those who get having a child with additional needs have helped me through some pretty tough times.  So, hearing Christine talk about her son was a bit of a hard listen for me. She obviously knows her son well and doesn’t think it’s an issue or him, particularly as he has a very close relationship with his sister.

I, on the other hand, still firmly believe my daughter needs more friends. But maybe I’m wrong.

It is the summer holidays here in the UK now, which presents some challenges. None of her friends from school live close enough for her to really catch up with easily. So, it becomes a task in itself to organise catch ups and when we do she doesn’t seem that bothered to see them. But is this a case of chicken and egg? She doesn’t see them enough, so she doesn’t think she needs to see them. Or is it she needs to see them more to find out how to be a friend?

This is an issue that isn’t going to go away. It was inevitable that she would grow apart from the friends she had when she was younger as she faced different challenges and couldn’t manage to the level of independence that they all grew into. So, the friends she has now are similar to her, which means that they aren’t yet mature enough to organise their own social lives.

So, it becomes our job and, frankly, I’m not sure we are that good at it. It’s especially hard for my daughter too as she sees her older sister organising her own social life, seeing friends and going to parties. My youngest may not actually want the same kind of social life but she wants the choice, and we don’t and actually can’t really give to her. She is simply not ready to be let loose in the complicated world of teenage social lives.

Even if she was let loose, would she choose to organise to meet friends? I simply don’t know. What’s the answer? Well, business as usual. I’m going to try and organise her social life as best I can. Just like Christine, I hope I know my daughter well enough to be making the right choices for her when it comes to friendships.

The Model Friendship

How many friends do you have? Possibly not as many as you had before you had a child with additional needs. This is a harsh but true fact. Friends slowly disappear because they don’t understand or they’re afraid. I have both lost and gained friends because my daughter has additional needs. It’s a bit like when someone passes away some people come around others stay way because they don’t know what to say. Actually, it’s just like this when you have a child with additional needs; I don’t expect all my friends to understand but I do want to know they are there if I need them.

Of course, sometimes it’s been my fault. Maybe at the beginning, as I was so overwhelmed with what life was throwing at me I inadvertently pushed people away. It’s hard to think about your friendships when your life has been thrown into one massive spiral of professionals mostly telling you that your child doesn’t have much of a future. But actually, if I had been a bit wiser I would have realised that was exactly the time I needed my friends.

Someone once told me we have friends for reasons and friends for seasons. I find that quite true. A very long time ago I was the stereotypical backpacker and during that time had many friendships that lasted a summer in the sun or a winter in London, no more. When both my children were younger, it was the season of parent friendships where we all had a common bond of young children. As my children have grown these friendships have changed with only a few remaining, and they are the friends for reasons. The people who stick by you because there is a bond there.

Why all this sudden musing on friendships? Well, the latest podcast Stepping Back – Part 2  was about friendship and how as parents we need to be a role model and show what a good friendship is. This got me thinking about my friendships and whether or not I’m modelling the kind of friendships I want for my daughter, showing her what good friendships are like, and demonstrating how friends should treat each other.

So, what makes a good friend? Being there even if they are not there. If you’ve listened to the podcast you will recognise my Aussie twang, meaning that many of my friends are still in Australian while I now live in the UK. It’s a much smaller group of friends that I have than when I lived in Australia but it’s definitely quality versus quantity. These friends have stayed with me and are only at the end of skype/messenger if I need them. So, if I’m role modelling friendship to my daughter then it’s a few good friends and that distance doesn’t necessarily matter.

How do I treat my friends back home? Not the way that serves as the best role model for my daughter that’s for sure! I think there should be an apology in here to all of them for my complete and total laziness when it comes to regular contact. My excuse… honestly, I don’t have a valid one. I need to be a more regular friend if I’m going to be that positive friendship role model for my daughter.

What other things make good friendships? Common interests, so back to reasons really. We all have friends who have children with additional needs. Why? because they do understand even in their daily experience is very different. They get the big picture. The worry about the future. The desire to overprotect.

I think my daughter is already looking out for people like her. She likes her school because people are like her. I can, however, see a danger in here for both of us. If I only have friends who have children with additional needs, then I risk losing friends who maybe don’t have my experiences but can offer me something else when it comes to friendship. It’s hard not to think about your children, talk about your children when you are around other parents in a similar situation. So, I need to engender in my daughter that variety is the spice of life. She needs to have friends who are not just like her. How that will happen might be easier said than done. As I said earlier I have lost friends but so has she because she hasn’t moved forward at the same speed as her friends. Growing up is hard enough and sometimes, despite your best efforts, embracing the different is overshadowed by peer pressure to be like everyone else.

And what about bad friendships. I don’t know about you, but I worry about my daughter being taken advantage of by someone who pretends to be a friend but has an ulterior motive. I have dealt with bad friendships over the years and I guess my go-to move has been to step back; sometimes I’ve explained why other times the friendship has just evaporated over time. Not much role modelling there for my daughter so I’m going to rely on the media for this one. So, by the time you read this, I shall have searched on Netflix for movies on bad friendships so her and I can get educated.

I’ve lived in the UK for a long time and I could count on one hand the number of close friends I have here. Now on reflection, I realise this is down mostly to the decisions we have made for our daughter about her schooling. Not for a moment do I regret these, obviously, but it has led to good friendships being lost because of distance. This is something I need to help my daughter understand. Already many of her friends do not live near her, because they are boarders (students who sleep) at her school, so come from across the UK. Will those friendships endure? Probably not. Thus, should I prepare her for those friends that are for seasons rather than reasons?

I have often wondered why the TV show Friends is still so successful, and on reruns 15 years later with my oldest daughter and her friend’s avid fans.  Maybe it’s because they are modelling friendship groups we all want, notwithstanding we would all like to be living in central New York. These guys love and support each other, and they laugh at and with each other. There is always the sense of support we want for our own children.

Being a role model for friendship is not something I had thought about as part of this parenting job. The last thing my oldest daughter wants is my advice on friendship. But my youngest who, to be honest, isn’t great on the friendship stuff, needs to see how I navigate friendships. How I treat my friends, what I expect from friendships, and what I put into friendships. I will be her guide.

Austen’s Autistic Adventures

School is a bit like a job – there’s the getting up each morning, the travel there, the demanding  boss aka teacher, the work, the socialising and the travel home. School occupies our children’s days. But what happens when your child comes to the end of school? What happens if there is nowhere to go?

Nothing?

For many their days are filled with boredom. One mother in Texas, however, has decided to change this. Jamie Wheeler runs Austen’s Autistic Adventures, a social group where people over the age of 18 can meet friends and engage in fun activities to develop their social skills.

Jamie’s Journey
When Jamie’s daughter, Austen,  graduated from High School, she lost her entire peer group as people moved on with the next stages of their lives. Where her daughter had once found community in the school choir and theatre groups, there was suddenly a void.

Jamie felt like she’d hit a brick wall and certainly hit an access barrier to services for post-18-year olds with additional needs. Determined to ensure that her daughter didn’t feel abandoned, she gave up her career as a college professor to set up the group.

For Jamie, it was about launching a program that was financially accessible with daily activities to allow members to experience real friendship relationships and reap the benefits of being part of a social group.

Another crucial component to the social interaction was having people from the local community sharing their skills and passion with members. This has meant things like visiting an art studio, a chef coming in to cook, and a tour of a local corporate office. Jamie tries to mix up the member’s experiences so they’re always being challenged in new social situations. She tells a wonderful story in the Friendships Matter Podcast of how young people learnt to interact and take turns while stuck in traffic on the way to (and from!) one particular event.

Jamie believes that daily interaction with others, both on and off the spectrum, improves social functioning. This is the case at home and in the community. Furthermore, by going out every day, the community at large gets to know people with autism as individuals, which leads to more, and better, employment and volunteer opportunities.

Overcoming the challenges
The main struggle Jamie faced when setting up was not knowing where to find people. She faced this challenge head on by using social media, setting up a website and getting the program out by word of mouth.

At the moment, Jamie’s biggest challenge is funding, it’s almost her full-time job, as they try to keep the prices for the members as low as possible. The key for Jamie now is to push forward with becoming a public, rather than private entity, and that will then open up more grant opportunities. She doesn’t worry about things not working out, but there can be nail-biting moments from a funding perspective!

Future plans
Jamie is in talks with an initiative called 29 Acres in Dallas to provide the social component to compliment the 29 Acres housing project. She also has a passion for teaching her working model to others interested in doing something similar in their local community.

Jamie’s top tips for setting up a similar inititiave:
1. Stay community-based
2. Talk to local small businesses for advice/help
3. Have a social media presence
4. Be dedicated

For Jamie, the key is getting the members out of their comfort zones and realising that things change dependant on the time and the place. By shaking up the day to include new things, she has found that their confidence soars. Jamie also emphasises the important of keeping the events to less than 2 hours to ensure that members don’t get overwhelmed.

And finally
The importance of community cannot be underestimated when we try to consider how to solve many of the problems that our young people with additional needs face in today’s society. Jamie put it perfectly when she spoke about friendships and specifically, that no matter who we are, everyone wants friends and that it’s a misconception that people on the spectrum don’t want friends. In Jamie’s first-hand experience, she sees young people actively looking at who is going to each event to check if their friends will be there too, because they have built that crucial friendship bond. Jamie shows us what focus and enthusiasm can achieve, there is no doubt her future plans will be a success and continue to make a massive difference to young people’s daily lives.

If you have a similar story to tell I’m very keen to hear from you. Please get in touch because so many others can learn and benefit from your experiences.