Teens with Autism Finding Mentors Within Their Own Community

Teens with Autism Finding Mentors Within Their Own Community

When on the spectrum, connecting with others with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be incredibly supportive.  The support stems from the simple fact that we understand each other and can offer unconditional acceptance.  I find I turn to those on the spectrum if I have a particularly bad day with meltdowns, sensory overload, anxiety, etc. Older adults on the spectrum have served as inspirational mentors and have helped pave the way for younger spectrumites like myself.

Older Adults as Mentors
I feel that connecting with others who have autism has changed my life for the better. It has given me hope to talk with older adults with autism who are successful, because the future can be scary sometimes. I find it comforting knowing many autistic adults who are paving the way for me and others who have an ASD, and I appreciate everything they are doing.

Young Adults Looking for Mentors
I have received messages on Facebook from young adults with ASD who want to be my friend. They want to know how I started speaking and writing to advocate for autism. I communicate with them and I am there for them, just like the people I know who are there for me. Within the autism community, we are all there for each other, no matter what, and that is huge.

Personal Story
I want to tell a heartwarming story that happened to me the last month or so.

I have been reading this wonderful blog, A Diary of a Mom, by a mom named Jess who has two daughters, one of whom has autism. Jess writes some amazing posts and I have loved seeing Brooke (her daughter with autism) grow over the time that I have been reading the blog.

In the beginning of October, Jess wrote about her daughter connecting with another individual who has an ASD. I commented for the first time on Jess’s blog and asked her to e-mail me. After emailing Jess back and forth a few times, Brooke and I became online friends. In one email Brooke said, “It is nice to be with a friend of mine.” That line means the world to me. It is Brooke telling me that yes, indeed, she wants to be my friend!

My relationship with Brooke means a lot to me, as it reminds me so much like myself when I was her age. In conclusion, I knew that Brooke and I were really friends when one night my mom asked me where I wanted to go to dinner, I said the name of the city where Brooke lives. This my friends is connecting, this is friendship….. please help and encourage your children to connect with individuals who are similar to them.

Tips for Connecting with Others
I asked Jess for three tips to help children connect with others who have autism and here is what she said:

  • Actively seek out or create opportunities for interaction with other kids on the spectrum. One way is to search for a class or an activity. For example, Brooke recently made a new friend at her adaptive dance class for children on the autism spectrum. They started with a shared interest!
  • Foster connections/friendships with other autistic children who they may come into contact with at school or in therapeutic settings. Talk to the other parents about how to set up successful interactions. Invite the child over or suggest doing something that both kids are likely to enjoy. Keep initial play dates short and structured and build slowly. Don’t give up if one play date goes south. Remember, all kids have tough days. It doesn’t mean it’s not worth another try.
  • Do not micromanage your child’s interactions. For my daughter, one of the greatest luxuries of spending time with other autistics is the lack of expectation of typical behavior. Especially if they know each other from school or another setting, they’ve likely already seen it all. They are not looking for ‘normal’. Allow the kids to let their guard down and simply be. Their interaction with one another may not look the way that YOU expect it to, but it might just be exactly what THEY want it to be.

Finally, I want to thank all the individuals with autism who have befriended and mentored me over the last year–it means more to me than I could ever express in words. Also, a special thanks to Jess from Diary of a Mom and her daughter Brooke.