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Friendship Is…

When my son was first diagnosed with autism, one of the first questions the developmental pediatrician asked was if he had any friends.

The question itself grieved me.

I knew why she was asking. There are very real barriers for our children in establishing and maintaining friendships. There are studies that show children on the spectrum that have at least one person they consider a friend, are more successful as adults.

But I couldn’t, and still can’t imagine having to answer that question with, “No. My son does not have any friends.”

It makes my heart ache that some of you might. That your prayer for your child is that he might find just one friend, or she might be able to finally connect with that girl next door.

In what can only be described as a crazy coincidence twenty two years in the making, a sweet gal that I went to high school with is now Dr. Annette Nunez. She and her colleague have been doing research for years on friendship and children on the spectrum. Their combined experience is 30 years, of working one on one and in school settings with children diagnosed with autism.

They just published their findings in a very accessible and meaningful book – straight from the children themselves.

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What they found, is that most children think and feel the same way about friendship, whether they are diagnosed with autism or not.

The writings and drawings in Friendship Is are from children in first grade through seventh.  The children are completely anonymous, with only their grade level listed. The anonymity of their diagnosis (should they have one), is what makes this book so very powerful. As you flip through the pages, you cannot distinguish the difference between a child on the spectrum or not.

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It’s beautiful.

Essentially, their research shows that our children’s diagnoses alone, should never be used as an indicator of whether or not they can form deep and meaningful friendships.

According to their findings, friendship has less to do with our children’s brain function and more to do with education and social awareness. It takes education on both sides – for our children and for the other children in their lives.

My own, very limited experience has shown the same to be true. The reason I was able to tell my son’s pediatrician, “Yes. My son does have friends, some of them very close,” is because we have a small, precious little group of kiddos in our lives. We have known them for over four years, and these children have mommas that love me and my boys, as much as I love them and their children.  We all work to help our kids interact well, teaching compassion, understanding, and awareness of differences.

And you know what? It’s not always easy for any of them. Sometimes there is a need to step in because of my child (and even his autism diagnosis). Sometimes it’s about two kids (not on the spectrum) learning to respect each other and get along.

Friendship Is includes activities for parents and teachers to help facilitate this type of social awareness and learning. They are simple, but meaningful ways to educate all children.

There is also a practical section on ‘Explaining Autism To Children’. The experience and care exhibited in this book is refreshing and honest. As a momma, I wish Annette lived closer so we could work with her!

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If you would like more information about the book Friendship Is, the website is ampublishing.co. It is also now available on Amazon.

Please know, I did not receive any compensation for this post. Because I know Annette from high school and through other friends, she was kind enough to send me a copy, but for me as a momma. She did not send it in the hopes that I would write about here. This post is purely about my heart to share it with y’all, and hopefully help encourage you that friendship is friendship, no matter what the diagnosis.

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8 Comments

  1. I love this book for all kids! I am so proud to say I went to RHS with you and Annette! That is so awesome that she became a dr that specializes in what you need for your child now, 21 years later. I love it! I love U and miss u terribly…xxoo

  2. I have a million and one things I would love to say to you, ask you, and talk to you about!.. But for now, thank you for sharing this…. I love what you had to say and as usual was encouraged. Friendships are amhars work! NT or not 🙂 and as someone who’s always had a hard time “letting go” of or moving on, accepting seasons of friendships- this is one thing I think of often for my little guy.. And I belie you’re right, with a good example and encouragement from parents all kids can “make friends” and have friendships 🙂

    Thank you for all you do and for sharing your wisdom and encouragement! It’s such a blessing.

    1. *are hard work.. Don’t know what autocorrect was doing there!

    2. Thank you so much, Renee. I am grateful for your words.

  3. It’s a large grief to me that Ethan doesn’t have friends. He has a girl that we see several times a year and they “share space”….as close to a friend as he has. But someone in our neighborhood that he can hang out and play with? No. And I think, for the first time, he’s becoming aware of it. And it just saddens me.

    1. I am so sorry, Tina. I think it is important to point out that although children on the spectrum may not view friendship any differently, their friendships may look a little different than ours, and that’s OK. For my son, there are a few “friends” that we allow him to communicate with online (in a very safe and parent protected way) that share his interest. He loves these people and they love him. They share the same interests and that has helped my son open up. I would encourage you to try and find anyway for your son to connect.
      Praying for you both this morning.
      Love,
      Shawna

  4. Ted Gwathmey says:

    My faith teaches me to forgive those that have wronged me, but I also strongly believe that it is important to warn consumers. I had the worst experience with Annette Nunez. She owned a business that provided ABA therapists. Several of her therapists worked with my daughter including Maylene. Some were good; some were not. I wasn’t really impressed by Maylene. My daughter really clicked with one of Annette’s younger, less experienced therapists and all the teachers at the school commented on how well my daughter did with this particular therapist. Sometimes it is more about the connection between the therapist and the child, than the experience the therapist has. I simply asked Annette if this therapist could work with my daughter exclusively, or at least, as much as her schedule allowed. We unwittingly caused some sort of controversy within her organization with this request and she told me that she could no longer do business with us. I begged her to reconsider because it was really hard for us to find therapists to work with our daughter, and the school required us to have one with her for a large part of her school day. Annette refused. There weren’t a large number of ABA therapists in the Denver area at that time, and she obviously felt she had the luxury of picking clients who paid their bills and kept their mouths shut. I know that people can change, but, at the time we worked with her, she did not have a compassionate bone in her body. I would be highly skeptical of any book written by Annette. I am sure that she is knowledgeable about ASD, but her emotional detachment to me was disturbing. She left us in an incredibly difficult position and seeing her name on a book about Autism just about made me physically ill.

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