Let’s be honest, we all want our children to make friends. And with autism, finding and maintaining friends can be met with varying levels of challenge. So one mom, Dawn Dudley, took it upon herself to make it a little easier for her daughter – as well as other girls touched by autism – with creation of My Circle of Girls. This group, based in North Carolina, was founded by Dudley to bring girls with autism and their families together – with the opportunity to make friends, know each others’ struggles and celebrate victories.
Each month the group gets together for social and service activities in the community. The purpose is focused on getting the girls to bond while offering them fun experiences. And in just 18 short months since the group was formed, it’s already getting get praise – in fact, Dawn says that parents have told her that the group has been more effective than some of the therapies they’re pursuing for their daughters.
This is such a great concept, and obviously a much-needed one. With autism being diagnosed in boys four times more than girls, there really aren’t any girl-specific programs available. So while My Circle of Girls is based in NC, there is already interest coming in from other states to build similar groups, so we hope this is a format that gets picked up for many other young ladies to benefit from.
Social struggles are a part of what many people with autism tend to face. While those touched by autism may find making friends to be difficult, the notion that it is impossible for autistic individuals to make friends is exactly the assumption Bryan Chandler is setting out to dispel. Bryan has Asperger’s (high-functioning autism) and – as he shared on The Mighty – feels that “we may have difficulty making friends, but we’re certainly able to make friends. It needs to be the right kind of person who’s willing to understand and accept the individual for who he or she is.” He goes on to say that the “general perception of autism makes me want to fall into my shell and recluse myself from the world. So my advice would be to stop talking and start listening to those on the spectrum.”
The numerous heartfelt responses were varied – with some invaluable insights. Here are just some of them:
“I have very few close friends, and many of them also have Asperger’s or another form of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). We get along because of mutual understanding of each other’s strengths and limitations.” – Rhiannon Hartwell
“I can make friends. It’s maintaining them [that’s] hard.” – Evenstar Hebert
“My desire and need for isolation is so great and I almost never feel lonely…nurturing my budding friendship with the time and attention needed is very difficult for me.” – Dymphna Dionne Janney
“I just enjoy being with those few close friends who I have a great bond with. My acquaintances just don’t know how to relate to me completely.” – Chris Buley
Another amazing example of how peer support can make all the difference! Check out this video of Preston Lillis, a 5th grader in Grandville, Michigan, who has Asperger’s, get cheered on by his classmates during their annual Field Day. As shared here, Preston’s parents said Field Day usually made him anxious, so much so that last year Preston was so stressed it caused a migraine and he had to miss the event. So this year his teachers and classmates came up with a plan to let Preston win and make it a fun experience for him.
And it looks like it worked! It’s the little things and times of thoughtfulness that can really make a lasting impact.
I learned about a program called Lunch Buddy – through this article – and I loved it so much that I wanted to share it with you. Maybe you’ve heard about this type of program — or, better yet, maybe your child is involved in something like this at school.
The article specifically talks about a mom, Lisa, who established a program for her second youngest child, 13-year-old Tate, who has autism. When Tate was in second grade, Lisa, along with help of her son’s school, brought together students from Tate’s class to have lunch with him on a rotating basis. This served as an opportunity for Tate to practice social skills – asking questions, working on the reciprocity of language, and even body language. His Lunch Buddy program is now in its fifth year, and although it’s been a long road and it took a lot of adult guidance over the course of these years, Tate’s parents are seeing how much he has developed socially in that time.
And here’s the thing, I have no doubt that such a program has been so greatly beneficial to Tate, but what I actually really love from this story is the impact it has had on his classmates that have been helping Tate over the years during their lunches – and recess time – together. Being a lunch buddy to Tate was something they had to sign up for, and it has empowered the kids to know they are helping Tate. As one of the lunch buddies said, “It’s kind of easy ‘cause he likes everybody. He’s just a good friend and he understands you.” Another said, “Some people don’t really listen to you when you talk, but Tate always seems to be listening to you. And he always knows the right things to say.” What an amazing teacher Tate has been to these kids as well.
Lisa discusses the Lunch Buddy program on her blog, Quirks and Chaos, which we encourage you to check out.