I have nothing against the goodness in the hearts of other people. However, I would like to explain how it feels to be on the receiving end when I am befriended out of the goodness of your heart.
First of all this doesn’t a friendship make because authentic friendships are reciprocal. This means that giving and receiving go both ways. The benefits are mutual. When you befriend me out of the goodness of your heart – and then tell me so – I understand that you are assuming the role of a kind benevolent person while I am perceived as a less than person, assumed to not be able to have real friends so will be grateful to you for including me. Please know we will not be friends no matter how many times you announce to others that we are friends.
I do not want a fake friendship where you are kind, nice and inclusive of me in public settings for your own personal gains of being known as a helper to a person with autism. I understand you may need to be known as a helper or need the admiration of others that this brings. However, you may not do it at my expense because I prefer not to be used in this way.
Just think how you might feel in these sorts of situations:
* A graduate student takes you on as a semester project, taking you out for two hours five times in order to write a paper on her experience of becoming friends with you – an autistic person.
* You (at 50+ year old who is cognitively congruent with your age, running your own business, an author and international speaker) are issued an invitation to a children’s event where there will be a clown, face painting, inflatable jumping house, etc. and told that the event is for children with autism, but since you have autism you will enjoy this event too.
* When at the mall with your friend another person comes up you both and says to your friend, “It is so nice of you to include ___________(insert your name) in your shopping trip.”
* Someone from an autism organization tells you that all kids with autism are to receive a free Christmas gift and asks if you would prefer a donated puzzle that has all the pieces or an autism awareness water bottle. You are 50+ years old so it is quite obvious by looking that you are not a kid.
* When out with a friend, an acquaintance approaches and in your presence tells your friend, “It is so nice you are mentoring ____________(insert your name). You have the patience of a saint.”
Like I said, I have nothing against the goodness people have in their hearts. I just don’t like it applied to me and then called something it isn’t – like a friendship or heroism. It doesn’t feel like friendship to me when you tell me I am included because of my autism or assume anyone with me is a mentor, a saint or a hero because they are doing something with or for me.
When the goodness of your heart plays out as I have described here I do know you mean well even though your good intentions degrade and devalue me. Bless your soul. Now, how did that feel?
JUDY ENDOW, MSW