How to be a friend: Students set example for friendship and inclusion

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Making new friends as a kid can be tough as it is and oftentimes, if you find the right ones they become friends for life.

Making friends for kids on the spectrum can be especially hard, but some local kids proved that it doesn’t have to be.

After a school career so far that has been sprinkled with bullies and seeking connection Logan Smith, 12, has found his real friends. The Trenton student was happy to go say hi to a group of teenagers hanging out at a ball field in Trenton a few weeks ago and as he approached them his mother Aimee Jamieson watched nervously, hoping that her son would be okay and not be rejected because of his differences like she had seen many times before.

“Kids his age have manipulated him to do things that they knew were wrong,” said Jamieson. She mentioned that in the past, other parents have even gone as far as stopping their kids from playing with Smith because they didn’t want their child to “catch autism.”

Physical bullying has been an issue as well for Smith after having been punched by two kids that he thought were his friends.

But none of this happened as Smith approached this group to say hello. But Jamieson watched closely just to see how things would go.

“It was very heartwarming to see him go over to a bunch of kids, which normally he wouldn’t,” she said. “Seeing him form relationships with people his age is fantastic.”

She said she could hear Smith scripting — a behaviour common with autism where someone repeats a word, phrase, or sound often from books or videos. But none of his peers told him to be quiet or stop.

Some of the teenagers Smith was talking to recognized him from school and welcomed him to hang out with them; and so it has gone for a few weeks now.

“We have a big group of people, we have a group chat,” said Derrick MacKay who, along with his brother Ethan MacKay, friends Brett Butler and Kaycee Murdock, and a number of others are the teenagers that Smith has befriended.

“We just saw him as a person,” said Murdock, about befriending Smith. She added that one of her cousins that she is close to also has autism and she is familiar with it.

“We just forget about it,” shrugged Ethan. His brother shared that for a time he and Ethan had attended New Glasgow Academy and were put in a class with easier work than the standard and they were made fun of because of it, so they understand what that can feel like.

“These are the kids that I want Logan to have and to form friendships with,” said Jamieson who was emotional about the impact this has made on her son. She added that as a 12-year-old in Grade 7, this is the first time this has happened to Smith.

“He may never express it but he will always remember you guys,” Jamieson said to the group. As neurotypical students the group of teenagers didn’t seem to fully understand the impact being nice has had on Jamieson and her son.

Jamieson shared that many times she wondered why no one would come to call on her son to come out and play, a thought that brought her to tears.

“It’s sad because being different isn’t a bad thing,” said Murdock.

Kelly Butler, Brett’s mother added, “It makes you feel that you’ve done something right.”

Although Smith wasn’t too talkative himself he said that he has experienced a lot of bullying over the years and he likes his new friends.

“None of you see him as autistic, that’s why it has such a big impact on me…” said Jamieson.

From left, Kaycee Murdock, Derrick MacKay, Logan Smith, Ethan MacKay and Brett Butler. (Brimicmbe photo)

It might be harsh to think about but bullying because of differences can be a reality for kids on the spectrum. Willa Kray of Autism Nova Scotia, Pictou County Chapter can attest to this. As someone who leads adult groups and deals with people who have autism often she hears lots of stories about bullying and teasing because of differences.

“People with autism usually have problems with socializing,” she shared, adding that they are extremely intelligent individuals that often have incredible memories, but because their brain is wired a little differently they tend to focus much more on other things going on rather than social cues or social skills.

“Inclusion is an important thing for someone with differences,” she said. Although being accepted may be important to many, people on the spectrum may not always understand why they are treated differently or what they did or did not do to be treated as such. As a neurological disorder with no cause or cure, it’s important to not treat people in the spectrum as different or like there is anything “wrong” with them just because they may behave differently or have heightened sensitivity to things.

According to Autism Nova Scotia, “Today, an estimate of 1 in 66 Canadian youth (aged 5 to 17) are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), equivalent to approximately 500,000 individuals of all ages across Canada.”

Kray encourages those seeking information on autism or the autism spectrum to email or call the Pictou County autism centre at 902-695-5505.