If you were to ask me if I had friends, I would answer, “Oh, yes! Hundreds. Thousands. Millions, even!”
Can you be friends with an alder leaf, a November cloud, a drop of rain slowly traversing the windshield, an arpeggio in E-flat major played on the cello, the man in the white sweater with frayed sleeves who smiles at you as you pass each other crossing the street, the spade-foot toad on your patio, the magenta pansy smiling from the garden border? A stone? A tree? A path? The planet? Angels?
I feel friends with everyone and everything, and I always have.
But this doesn’t seem to be the common definition of “friend.”
A 2013 study by Gael I. Orsmond, Paul T. Shattuck, Benjamin P. Cooper, Paul R. Sterzing, and Kristy A. Anderson, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, found that:
– almost 40 percent of youth with ASDs never got together with friends;
– 50 percent never received phone calls or were invited to activities; and
– 28 percent were socially isolated with no social contact whatsoever.
(as ctd. in Heasley, “Study: Nearly 1 In 3 With Autism Socially Isolated“)
Though I’m not a youth and haven’t received an official diagnosis of autism, I fit the remaining criteria for the first two categories: I never (or very, very rarely) get together with friends, and I never (or very, very rarely) receive phone calls or am invited to activities. I don’t consider myself socially isolated because I live with my boyfriend and, Monday through Friday, I interact with five to twenty people daily at my place of employment.
However, a review of the study in disabilityscoop, interpreted social isolation in this way: “almost one-third of those with autism qualified as socially isolated because they never received telephone calls or went out with friends.” I haven’t tracked down the study (only an abstract was available for free reading online), so I don’t know if that’s the definition the authors provide; but it’s the definition used by the reviewer.
So here’s a spot of significant cognitive dissonance in my life. I was born feeling connected to everyone and everything. This state of unity which yoga practitioners yearn for and practice a lifetime to achieve has been my birthright and is always available to me. I feel I am friends with everyone and everything on the planet–we are all cells in the same system, right? And yet, by common standards, I don’t have friends and may even be considered socially isolated.
Yet how can I feel isolated? I am connected to all-that-is, and this connection never leaves me. On my own terms, looking within at the state of my spirit and soul, I am healthy, whole, resilient, well-adjusted, and lacking nothing. I live in the full abundance of energy, of life.
“Difficulty navigating the terrain of friendships and social interaction is a hallmark feature of autism,” states Paul Shattuck, in a widely quoted interview about this study he led (as qtd. in Heasley).
It depends on how you define friendship, I suppose.
I am only lonely when I try to fit my social interactions into a standard definition of “friendship,” and I’m not even sure what that means. When I operate within my own lexicon, I am never lonely. I am never even alone, for always, there’s a breeze, a sound, dust motes, sparkles of light, a leaf, a cricket–always, there are friends.
Heasley, Shaun. “Study: Nearly 1 in 3 With Autism Socially Isolated.” disabilityscoop. 8 May 2013. www.disabilityscoop.com/2013/05/08/study-socially-isolated/17905/. Accessed 30 Nov. 2018.