Friendships and social relationships can be difficult to navigate for anyone, but for many individuals with FASD there are layers of complexity added to it. That doesn’t mean they won’t have friends. Sometimes we have to change our expectations of friendships and look for creative ways we can support our child, teen or adult. I was reminded of this last night.
The maiden has been friends with a young woman she met through an online game for a few years now. They live in different countries and different time zones but they have forged a friendship through a common interest. Much like you would in person. And while in my day my friends and I would talk on the phone and see each other in person, these days distance does not matter and they use Skype or Messenger to video chat. Sometimes they are doing their own thing while chatting away … other times they are playing the game they connected over or listening to music … but much of the time they are just sharing conversation and laughs as friends do.
I was worried at first of course. But I have “met” the friend. The maiden often chats when I am in the room. So although not listening in on their conversation, sometimes I can’t help but overhear. Last night was one such night where they were chatting while I was in the room. The maiden was showing her friend our dog, as he was playing with a toy, and there was conversation over different restaurants … so every once in awhile the maiden would ask me to comment on something … so I would. And we had a three way conversation going a few times. Like one would in person.
It struck me how something so simple could bring up such emotion in me. I was filled with gratitude for the friendship the maiden has maintained. I reminisced about times when my friends interacted with my parents or I with my friend’s parents. That could have sent a wave of grief and loss over me, however it filled my heart. Times have changed since I was young. But with the right supports, teaching safety and monitoring when necessary, people can and do make friendships virtually and it can be a lifesaver for loneliness and connection when there isn’t anyone available in person.
I will never forget one of the questions the social worker asked me prior to adopting my daughter was, “How will you deal with your daughter never having friends? Because that is a real possibility.” What a thing for the worker to say! But as an introvert and fairly shy person in new situations I was used to only having a few friends, so I thought I could help my daughter navigate and would be able to empathize with her. I couldn’t imagine however that she would never have any friends. True to what the worker said, friendships have not been easy for her, and are not for many with FASD. In fact, find a friend was one of the 12 Wishes for My Daughter and FASD which outlines her (and our) journey to find and keep friends. I also wrote about friendship and loss in Loneliness and loss: a lifetime of good-byes.
Sadly the few friendships she made in elementary school all moved away and because they were so young, social media did not keep them connected. For those that did, the maiden matured slower so keeping the friendship alive wasn’t to be. She never had any trouble making friends, it was maintaining the friendships that were difficult. I did most of what people suggest, but in the end, sometimes we just have to be the friend for our child until they can develop their own friendships. And they will get there.
Like anything else, it takes time and we may need to support them longer than we think. There are a few factors that impede our kids ability to maintain friendships. Some of the symptoms of the disability that add layers of complexity: affect regulation, dysmaturity, not understanding social cues, confabulation, and vulnerability.
We had some tricky times to navigate because of the above. The best thing you can do for your child however is to have a strong, connected relationship with them. It isn’t always easy. But if your child knows they can come to you with any trouble and feels safe to do that, you may be able to help them navigate friendships.
I found a couple resources if you are looking for ideas on how to help.
- Managing and Keeping Friends from Lutherwood / FASD Waterloo Region
- Friendship Tips for Adults with FASD from EFAN (Edmonton and Fetal Alcohol Network)
- Friendship? Dating? Sex? Relationships in the Complex FASD World a video from the FASD Toolkit, Government of Alberta
We can teach about friendship, role model, set up, find and supervise opportunities for relationships, but in the end like so many things, connection, creativity and thinking outside of the box is key. Some say parents should not be their child’s friend, but sometimes we have to be, or we have to find creative ways, until they find their own. Setting up a community around our kids until they find those friends or connections is what we can do. Sheila Burns calls it “tethering” our kids to good people. So until your child finds friends, be their friend and tether them to good people until they find their own.
Many say that most of our “kids” take longer. With the maiden I saw a lot of growth that happened after 18. She has an in person friend from high school that she keeps in touch with, connects twice a week with a virtual respite worker that she considers like a sister and has her online friends. She is doing okay.
She is friendly and kind and I think as she continues to mature and grow she will find her community. I will continue to look for opportunities for her, but in the end it will be her decision who she connects with and how. For now though, I am feeling immense gratitude for the connections she does have.