Friend or special interest

Q: For autistics, is someone who is a special interest
the same as what neurotypicals call a friend?

Embrace ASD | Friend or special interest | illustration FriendOrSpecialInterest Duality

Note: the images in this post are animated GIFS, which you
might need to manually activate to fully understand the answer.

Warning: If you are sensitive to flashy images,
proceed with caution or skip this post at your own leisure.


Special interest

When someone is my special interest
(Martin, my son, and even my patients),
I feel like this about them:

Embrace ASD | Friend or special interest | animation RafaelMantesso Dog01

And my heart goes like this
when I think of them—even when
they are a special-interest-friend
and not a romantic interest:

Embrace ASD | Friend or special interest | animation RafaelMantesso Dog02

And I am okay when they get close to me:

Embrace ASD | Friend or special interest | animation RafaelMantesso Dog03b

I can be myself around them:

Embrace ASD | Friend or special interest | animation RafaelMantesso Dog04

I like to study them, for my own pleasure
and so I can understand them better.

Embrace ASD | Friend or special interest | animation RafaelMantesso Dog05

And I like to be in pretty much
constant communication with them:

Embrace ASD | Friend or special interest | animation RafaelMantesso Dog06

And when I spend time with them,
I feel energized:

Embrace ASD | Friend or special interest | animation RafaelMantesso Dog07

This is very different from when someone is a friend.


Friends

I do like my friends, of course!

But when I say “yes” to doing something with them,
even just a conversation on the phone, having tea, or
taking a walk, the first thing I have to consider is if I have
enough social credits (spoons) available in order not to
have a meltdown and end up at home like this:

Embrace ASD | Friend or special interest | animation RafaelMantesso Dog08

Or I might get snappy with my friend,
which never goes well with neurotypicals,
and can result in me seeming like a lunatic
or an unkind person—which I’m not!

Embrace ASD | Friend or special interest | animation RafaelMantesso Dog09

Recently, I was fired from my dentist due to having a meltdown. ☹️

People are more tolerant when you tell them
you are sorry you had a meltdown.

But even still, it makes me feel awkward,
and it’s not conducive to relationships.


Socializing

Especially in social situations with friends,
I am still likely to feel awkward:

Embrace ASD | Friend or special interest | animation RafaelMantesso Dog10

And I might get overstimulated:

Embrace ASD | Friend or special interest | animation RafaelMantesso Dog11

And I often feel like I am juggling 10 balls
as I manage social interactions with friends:

Embrace ASD | Friend or special interest | animation RafaelMantesso Dog12

And yes, I am still likely to
mess something up socially:

Embrace ASD | Friend or special interest | animation RafaelMantesso Dog13

But I usually do have a good time.

Nonetheless, I am totally relieved when it is over!

After I am done seeing a friend,
I feel like this:

Embrace ASD | Friend or special interest | animation RafaelMantesso Dog14

And this:

Embrace ASD | Friend or special interest | animation RafaelMantesso Dog15

And I will need some recovery time in order to function fully.
Which means I cannot see friends the day before I work.

Embrace ASD | Friend or special interest | animation RafaelMantesso Dog16


Peace

With a special interest, I don’t have to spend social credits.
I don’t even have to do anything, other than being my authentic self.

Embrace ASD | Friend or special interest | animation RafaelMantesso Dog17b


All animated images
by Rafael Mantesso

An illustrated portrait of a dog.

Dogs, Friendship, Humor, Lived experience, Meltdown, Overstimulation, Personal experience, Rafael Mantesso, Social interaction, Special interests, Spoon theory


Dr. Natalie Engelbrecht

Dr. Natalie Engelbrecht

Dr. Natalie Engelbrecht RP ND is a dually licensed registered psychotherapist and naturopathic doctor, a Canadian leader in trauma and PTSD, and integrative medicine strictly informed by scientific research, and she happens to be autistic.

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