It is hard to know if kids with Aspergers (high functioning autism) are as lonely as their moms and dads believe they are. Therapists do know that playing with a friend, making a friend and being with a friend are "overwhelming skills" for Aspergers children. Kids without Aspergers make no sense to "Aspies," because Aspies are totally preoccupied with their own agendas.
Teaching Aspergers children social skills is a big task for moms and dads and educators. It is not like teaching the child how to ride a bicycle or tie a shoe, but rather trying to teach something no one formally taught you. How do you teach someone how to read a room, especially someone who has no understanding of other individual's emotions and body language? Kids with Aspergers have no idea about how to reason socially and come up with proper courses of action in social situations (e.g., one guy with Aspergers got lost in the school corridors on his way to gym. He had forgotten the route, but he did not think to simply follow his classmates to the gym).
Yet therapists emphasize the need to teach Aspergers children social skills because they desperately need them to get along in life. The Aspie’s lack of social understanding virtually colors every other experience in his/her life. Yet the question of whether kids with Aspergers are truly lonely and want friends is a different discussion. Like all kids, some are extroverted and others are more withdrawn. Like all kids, they probably vary in their need for social interactions.
When researchers ask kids with Aspergers about friendship, they are usually very negative. They think of friendship with other kids as too much work and often prefer grown-ups. For example, when a teacher was forcing a six-year-old to participate in a playgroup with other kids, he said, "I hate kids. I don't play with kids. I'm not a kid. I was born a grown-up." Michael, a fourteen-year-old with Aspergers advises other Aspergers children, "If you like being on your own, then be happy with your own company and don't let anyone convince you its wrong." His advice to ‘pushy moms and dads’ is "Never force your youngster to socialize. Most Aspergers children and autistic individuals are happy to just be by themselves."
However, these kids might be happier by themselves because social activity has caused them so much pain in the past. In one study, gifted kids with Aspergers could not describe friendship in positive terms such as "a friend is someone who is nice to you." They had only negative associations such as "a friend is someone who does not hit you." These kids told interviewers only about how mean other children had been to them and seemed to lack any idea of what reciprocal friendship really means.
Yet as Aspergers children go through the teen years, most realize that they are missing out by not fitting in. It is at this point in their lives that they crave friendships with peers, yet this unfulfilled desire on top of high school pressure to conform, constant rejection and harassment can often cause depression in Aspie teenagers. They grow more isolated even as they crave more interaction with other teenagers. Young Aspie kids often believe everyone in their class is the same and everyone is a potential friend. Aspie teenagers know better.
Research shows that the more time a person with Aspergers spends socializing, the happier she is. Aspergers children can and do form friendships. When they do, research shows that even one friendship will speed up their entire social development.
People married to someone with Aspergers often talk about their own feelings of loneliness. They tell counselors that marriage to a person with Aspergers feels like living alone. An Aspie husband/wife often does not attend to details like anniversaries, may not connect with the couple's kids on an emotional basis, and may not benefit from marriage counseling. A parent of a youngster with Aspergers may feel rejection when their youngster refuses to cuddle or express affection. The youngster's needs are unrelenting and yet the moms and dads' rewards are sometimes rare. Brothers and sisters hide their lonely feelings about living in a family where their Aspie sibling monopolizes their moms and dads' precious time and they miss the normal give and take of sibling relationships. Many siblings believe that the Aspie's “disability” is an advantage …a passport to special attention, recognition and privilege.
Helping kids with Aspergers develop social skills will no doubt become easier in the future. Every day educators are developing better techniques. Researchers are closing in on the genetic and environmental causes of Aspergers and may someday develop a cure. There is promising new research being conducted in a study on "Friendship and Loneliness in Individuals with Aspergers." Perhaps someday the answers will be clearer for individuals with Aspergers and those who love them.
Aspergers Teens and Social Isolation—
In the teenage world where everyone feels insecure, teens that appear different are ostracized. Aspergers teens often have odd mannerisms. For example, they may talk in a loud un-modulated voice, avoid eye contact, interrupt others, violate others’ physical space, and steer the conversation to their favorite “weird” topic. Aspie teens may appear willful, selfish and aloof, mostly because they are unable to share thoughts and feelings with others. Isolated and alone, many Aspergers adolescents are too anxious to initiate social contact.
Many Aspie teens are stiff and rule-oriented and act like little grown-ups – a deadly trait in any adolescent popularity contest. Friendship and all its nuances of reciprocity can be exhausting for a person with Aspergers, even though he wants it more than anything else.
The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook