8: Asperger’s and Friendship

8: Asperger’s and Friendship

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness

Asperger’s and Friendship

A friend is someone who understands your past, believes in your future, and accepts you just the way you are.

~Author Unknown

As far back as I can remember I was the odd one out at school and for me it meant a lack of friends. However, those who were willing to be my friends tried to help me, and I had a core group of friends who stuck with me through the storms of elementary, junior high and high school.

When I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome in the ninth grade, I was told that I would have to go to a special school for autistic kids. My resource teacher at that time said it would be a bad idea, and then he asked me if it was okay for him to talk to my class about my diagnosis. For those who do not know what Asperger’s syndrome is, it is a high functioning form of autism characterized by a special interest, sensory integration dysfunction, lack of social skills, communications, and executive function.

I thought we were giving them more ammunition with which to tease me. Well, I was mistaken. Instead, they rallied around me, teaching me what was socially acceptable and how to study better.

I wound up being on the Academic Decathlon team for three years; in my senior year I was team captain. I helped lead the team to Most Improved and received the Most Inspirational Participant award. But I will never forget the high point of senior year — I was asked to be a starting player at the senior alum game; when I went on court my peers started to stamp their feet and call out my name. The game was slowed down, and I was passed the ball. When I missed the first shot, my peers stamped harder and called my name louder. I landed the second shot and scored two points. I will never forget the cheering of my peers. I was voted MVP even though I had scored only two points.

When I moved on to college I found another group of friends at the University of La Verne and these friends have been with me now for five years. I will never forget their kindness. As an Aspie, I don’t deal well with surprises; I need to rehearse possible scenarios. But on my twenty-second birthday my university friends decorated the door and hallway of my dorm. I was overcome by the surprise, but surprisingly, I didn’t have a meltdown from the surprise! They surprised me again on my twenty-fourth birthday.

But the real moment I found happiness, and really understood what was meant by happiness and friendship, was yesterday — April 9, 2011. It was a joint birthday party for me, my cousin who I call my big sister, and her sister’s boyfriend. I had invited thirteen people and only five showed up, but the five that came included an old friend from elementary school, a friend and mentor from high school, and two friends from the university. I was nervous and scared because I had no idea what to expect, but when the party was over I had received a true gift. I realized what makes me happy and stronger is having a large group of friends. Just having a friend is highly unusual for someone with Asperger’s, but I have a large support group: a core of five friends that have stayed in contact since elementary school; a group from secondary school, and now friends from the university.

I have two other friends with the same diagnosis and they don’t have friends like I do — friends who support me, who guide me, and who are not afraid to tell me when I have done something incorrectly. My friends make me happy, and they make my life worth living — because I am rich in friends.

~Richard Nakai

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