Sunday, November 25, 2007

How to Make a Friend by Shannon Johnson

My son Wynn has autism. As a result, his social skills are stunted. Neverless, he still longs for friendship and interaction even though he rarely knows how to properly initiate conversation. When he was 7 or 8, he went through a phase where he would approach strangers with survey-type questions: "Excuse me, Sir. Are you married or are you happy?" or "Excuse me, Lady. Have you always been so old?" or, my personal favorite, "Excuse me, girl. How did you grow up to be a fat woman?" As you can imagine, he didn't make many friends for either one of us, and I spent alot of time apologizing and embarrassed (although his questions were actually quite relevent).

Then there was also the phase when he was totally fascinated with any man with facial hair. In his attempt to interact with his subject of interest, he approached each man in need of a shave with the phrase, "My mom really likes your beard." And then he would shove me and my glowing red face in the direction of his new acquaintence. Thanks to Wynn, I have flirted with a lot of five o'clock shadows in my time.....

Currently, at age 12, Wynn has become much more direct in his social initiations. He is methodical and to the point as he follows this simple two-step formula: first give compliment, then ask a short, personal question. More specifically, he bluntly says, "I like you. Why are you so weird?". No matter your age, color or size, he uses the same formula.."I like you. Why are you so weird?"....It is amazing how effective such an approach has proven to be. I have watched countless people be totally taken off guard and become completely real in just a matter of seconds.....Usually, the individual of interest laughs first and then proceeds to explain their particular "weirdness". It's humbling to be witness to such confessions but it is also heartwarming to see the walls come down and the bonding begin. And now, my son with autism has many, many friends. I think he may be on to something.

Life should be so simple.

Written 10/07

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