In this series of posts, I will be writing tributes to a number of autistic people I have known throughout my life who have inspired me in some way.
The first of these will be dedicated to one of my great friends growing up, with whom I spent a large amount of my time during primary school.
At the time neither of us knew that he was autistic. Looking back, though, it does make sense. I myself was already diagnosed at or around the time we met. I had gone through the first year of primary school being relatively lonely (not that I minded too much at that age), and it felt good to find a friend with whom I had so much in common.
For the purposes of this post, we’ll call him Matt. Matt arrived at my school during the second year and like me he seemed to have trouble making friends. Personality-wise we sometimes clashed-at that age we were both stubborn and we liked our own way-but our shared interests drew us together and kept us together.
I had recently discovered a story that was to change my life: namely The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. The film adaptations of the book were being released around the time that the book was read to me (by my father), so it was little wonder that I soon became interested in a world of elves, hobbits and Orcs. I soon shared my newfound love of this story with everybody I knew, including Matt, who quickly found himself becoming as much of a fan as I was. From then on, our games in the playground were almost exclusively ring-themed.
It didn’t seem strange to us then that we should delve into our games with such attention to detail and enthusiasm: nor did we seem to notice (or care) that the people who joined our games briefly soon moved on to pursue other interests and play other games.
Of course, it is now clear to me that the two of us were experiencing what is known as a ‘special interest’ among the autism and Aspergers communities. It was nonetheless a key part of our relationship and I have found that shared interests over the years have been a good starting point in conversation leading to numerous friendships with both autistics and non-autistics.
Growing up, both Matt and I struggled to make friends (although he seems to have become far more socially confident as a young adult) and I was truly devastated when he moved schools a couple of years later. When we talked online a year or so ago Matt revealed to me that he had recently been diagnosed with autism (in his early twenties) which certainly surprised me at the time, but less so after I considered things more deeply.