Editor’s note: This article was contributed by Angie Paturzo, who has a son with autism and works in the ASNC Accounting Department.
Zachary is 14 months younger than his brother, Anthony. For much of their lives, Anthony’s friends would come to our house and they were considered Zachary’s friends as well. However, as they got older and Anthony and his friends started hanging out away from the house, Zachary felt a keen sense of loss and a lot of jealousy. He would express how much he hated being autistic and that when he was older, he would not be autistic anymore. It was heartbreaking to me as a mom to see him desperately want the friendships his older brother had, but not have the skills and opportunities to make those friendships.
Throughout school, Zachary had friends in his class and opportunities to integrate with his typical peers, but none of those friendships ever translated to spending time with friends outside of school. Zachary has a Facebook account, but his friends on social media are all very supportive family members.
When Anthony moved to Portland, OR, the jealousy lessened somewhat because Zachary was not always reminded of the friends he didn’t have. However, he would still often talk about Anthony’s friends, ask whether Anthony had friends in Portland, and lament his own lack of friends.
When Zachary graduated from high school, his social circle became a lot smaller. About a year and a half ago, he began attending the monthly social group and pizza party for adults on the spectrum at ASNC’s Creative Living office in Raleigh. He has developed friendships with his peers in the group and has a great time with them while he is there. He looks forward to those pizza parties! Around the same time Zachary starting attending the social group, he began spending more time with his Autism Support Professional through ASNC. His ASP assists him with grocery shopping, working out, eating healthy, and various other skills for independence and recreation. His ASP is very invested in Zachary’s success. Having a peer and mentor has been a tremendous boost to Zachary’s self-esteem and confidence, but even though Zachary considers his staff a friend and vice versa, he is still a paid support.
After November’s social group, Zachary came home ecstatic and announced that he had asked a woman from the social group, who had become a good friend, for her phone number and she gave it to him. I started crying. It seems like such a small step for a typical adult, but it was a huge leap toward independence and establishing a natural support on his part. For the first time, Zachary has a friend who he can communicate with outside of a structured setting, and I did not facilitate it.
They text a few times a week, and I have overheard him talking with her on the phone on a few occasions. I try not to hover or ask him too many questions about their communication, but to hear him laugh with a friend on the phone is priceless. He does not ask about Anthony’s friends anymore. He has his own now.
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