Michael called tonight… thankfully at a very reasonable 730 PM, not midnight. He touched base with Ray, as he does almost every day (too often at midnight). They share the day’s HALO/Bionicle news, the latest on the Disney Star Wars’ purchase, and the plan for the next get-together, as distant as it might be.
Michael and Ray have been friends for four years. They met by chance at the Goshen Country Fair, where Michael and his family volunteer each year. At the time, Ray was living independently in the same town. They struck up a conversation, found they had many interests in common, were able to plan and get together on Friday nights for the next two years…and the rest is history. Michael lived here at the Hill for a year while he was finishing up his transition program in high school, and now lives back home with his family about 40 minutes away though he makes it down to the farm on weekends regularly for HALO marathons….
These two best friends share their interests, their possessions, often their money, and their secrets… and they happen to also share an autism diagnosis. They help each other through their sensitivities, annoying habits and meltdowns, and almost always remain true to the other, no matter how disruptive they become. They have two very very different dispositions, yet it works…. They are a couple of lucky guys, and they know it. Many folks, with or without a diagnosis, could benefit from their recipe for true friendship.
What is this recipe exactly? Patience, trust, familiarity, tolerance, compatibility, convenience…. and TIME……all of the qualities that one would guess….. plus a healthy dose of luck and ‘perfect timing’ no doubt.
Now if only we could replicate this recipe again and again.
Too often, what I see with folks on the spectrum and other disabilities is a desire for friendship, but an overwhelming fear of intimacy, change, and sensory overload. Confusion about what friendship is, and what expectations are involved. An ambivalence about leaving that comfort zone where one can immerse themselves in special interests without interruption…. and a need to be alone to control all input. Sometimes it can be just a simple preference for convenience over company. The fear of disappointing, and disappointment. The fear of the unknown. The fear of vulnerability.
FEAR. That’s a big one.
Things don’t always go as smoothly as Ray and Michael, when forming a new friendship. And this week, I have a new respect and appreciation for the bond that they share, because I tried to help a couple of other guys get started with a new friendship.
Several months ago, nurturing these types of friendships became my livelihood, when I went back to helping others …. young folks just like Ray and Michael and the Juniper Hill guys…. set up independent living in the community. It’s not so difficult to find a place for people to rent, or to make sure they have the supports needed (help with cooking, cleaning, budgeting)….. or even to find two or three people who want to live in the same place at the same time. Sounds complicated? It’s the easy part.
After the furniture is moved in and the kitchen is stocked, real life begins and new housemates unfamiliar with each other have to spend lots of time together. It’s not so difficult, when the support people are there too. Helping with decisions about what to eat for dinner, where to move the couch, what to watch on TV. Helping with facilitating conversation, especially. But then the support people leave, and the chores are done, and no one is reminding anyone of what ‘s next.
It’s scary, but it’s fun. It’s confusing….but it’s exciting. Its empowering, but at the same time old insecurities surface. It’s evolving, and it takes time… lots of time… for trust to develop.
And sometimes before that trust develops,… the whole thing just blows up. And then you have to help them pick up the pieces, and figure out how to help them move on. And that has been my life these past two weeks.
Ray and Michael, you sure made this look easy. Keep taking care of each other, you are truly lucky.