Autism and friendships

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.” - Jane Austen

This quote makes me think that Jane Austen may have been on the spectrum, such is her passion and commitment to life, her work and her friends. Many people who are autistic are intense about their passions and their relationships, this is not easily reciprocated or understood by those who are not on the spectrum. 

Sadly, many people who are autistic are bullied and vulnerable to being exploited, abused, gossiped about, mistreated and alienated, this is because society can be very cruel to those who are different. I got diagnosed with autism in November 2020 to protect me from being bullied, mistreated and harassed by people in my local community and to allow me to write freely about my life and my experiences.

The reality is that many neurodivergent females are exploited and abused as a result of discrimination, prejudice, ignorance and misogyny and that is one of the main reasons I do the work I do and I am very public and open about my diagnosis and experiences. I want to help change the narrative and raise awareness on how cruel and abusive many people are to those who are neurologically divergent, particularly those who identify as female. 

Women are socialised in a different way to men which will greatly affect how autistic females relate to others and are related to, often female socialisation include behaviours which will not make sense or be easily replicated by females who are on the spectrum. For instance gossip is something which I find distasteful and cruel and this makes it difficult for me to connect and relate to many females who enjoy gossiping and who enjoy the suffering of others (it is an absurd and unhealthy social and cultural practice). I am proud that I am not like this, but sadly it seems to be a social cohesion tactic used by many women to connect with each other. 

It can be difficult for autistic females to make friends and to sustain them and the same is true for autistic males, however, it seems that misogyny and different gender expectations mean that the social component and societal norms problematise this issue for women. I was bullied in school by girls who I thought were my friends but many were just using me to ridicule and mock me about my looks and appearance.

Many boys and male friends would say it was jealousy, but I think it is a sign of unhealthy collective behaviour, those who are different are often targeted in unhealthy and toxic environments, cultures and friendship groups. Often referred to or thought of as scapegoating. I found their behaviour odd, as it was bizarre to me that they would show such interest and malice towards someone. I now know they are mean people and they are not friends, sadly being pure-hearted and a good person does not mean that others will treat you well. 

Anybody who is cruel and demeaning about a person’s physical appearance is not a friend (and in my opinion is not a good person), I know that now but I have had this many times throughout my life. In my forties I am very selective with my friendships and while I know many people, I have very few friendships and am much happier as a result. I prefer to see friends on a one-to-one basis and I really enjoy having a variety of friends with many different interests, who I see semi-regularly, who love me as I am and enjoy doing some of the ridiculous things I enjoy and most importantly are willing to talk about anything and everything. These are the people who bring me joy, make me laugh and are the best type of people, these are friends and the way I do friendships is different and that is OK. 

In my work, I support people who are neurodivergent to develop relationships that are good for them and most importantly safe and when I mean safe, I mean emotionally as well as physically. To do this I encourage my clients to understand themselves, to value themselves and to protect themselves too.

I believe that the people who offer the best friendships and support networks for neurodivergent or autistic people are those who are like them or at least who have similar interests and understand and accept diversity. In recent years I have found that my friendships around achieving things and following my passions have been the most successful, rewarding and fulfilling. I no longer am solely friends with people because we went to school together (I have come to learn my school is terrible and many of those who I went to school with I have nothing in common with), my friends are people who think similar to me and want to make the world a better place.

I really like the quote - “Small minds discuss people. Average minds discuss events. Great minds discuss ideas.” I prefer to be around people with ideas, dreams and goals and from someone who spent a lot of time with “normal” people and who now spends almost all their time with neurodivergents, it is my belief many autistics and neurodivergents are in the great minds category. I have known both sets of people and social spheres, I know where I prefer to be and what company is safe, respectful and inspiring to me. I advise my clients to connect with those who discuss ideas and things they enjoy and I also encourage them to focus on those who accept them as they are and treat them well. That is what friends do and that is what all autistic people deserve. 

Friendship ... is born at the moment when one man says to another "What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .

- C.S. Lewis

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Stewartstown, County Tyrone, BT80

Written by Louise Taylor

Stewartstown, County Tyrone, BT80

Louise Taylor lives in Northern Ireland with her family. She is a co-presenter on Therapy Geeks and is starting up a project called Mind Our Kids. She is doing research with Queens University Belfast as part of her PhD on Nature and Mental Health. Louise is a private practice therapist specialising in ecotherapy and neurodiversity.

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