The Importance of Friendships and the Autism Spectrum.

Having Asperger Syndrome can make it really hard for me to make new friends. I am very self conscious about what people will think of me because ASD can hinder my social skills. In high school, the friends I had made knew me well and were aware of my social differences and they  grew to accept me over the years. When my friends and I graduated  from high school, most of us went on to different colleges not only around California but all around the country as well. I was now faced with the daunting task of making new friends at an unfamiliar place.

When I first got to UCSB, I was very intimidated by the new campus and the fact that there were very few familiar faces there. Not living on campus for the first two years made making friends almost impossible. Because of this I was very lonely and I even began questioning whether or not UCSB was the right place for me. I have never told anyone about this (not even my parents or the Koegels), but there was actually a point during that summer after my second year that I actually considered leaving UCSB and starting over at another college. However, my third year changed my entire perspective.

The Koegel Autism Center as well as my parents thought that if I lived on campus, I would be able to have more of a social life. So for my third year I  very reluctantly moved into the dorms. I did not think that I would be any happier living on campus, but this turned out to be the best thing that I could have done. On campus at UCSB I made many friends with my dorm mates and classmates. I also formed friendships with the people who worked at the Autism Center. Although I had worked with the Koegel Autism Center well before starting as a student at UCSB, I really got to know many of the clinicians and peer mentors much better when I was  living in the dorms and interacting with them on a daily basis.

As part of teaching me social skills, we would hang out together not only at the clinic but at various spots such as restaurants, coffee shops, or lounges around the Santa Barbara Area. The clinicians and peer mentors introduced me to their friends thereby expanding my circle of friends. I would have to say that these friendships were the highlight of my experience at UCSB. Having friends made such a big difference in my college career; a bigger difference than I could have ever imagined.

After living in the living in the dorms and making friends my third year, I knew that UCSB was the right place for me. Not only was my social life better, but my grades improved as well. Living on campus and having friends made years 3-5 much more enjoyable. That's not to say that there were not challenges here and there. But having friends made all the difference and emotionally I was in a better place when those challenges did come up. If I ever had a problem, I could always count on friends to give me advice to help the situation.

After I graduated college, I decided to move closer to my home town to be near my family and because the cost of living in the Santa Barbara area is very high. Before moving I made a promise to all my friends who were still in Santa Barbara and at the Koegel Autism Center. I vowed that I would always remain friends no matter the distance and that I would come and visit them whenever I could. That is a promise that I have kept to this day almost three years later.

Every 2 weeks or so, I will make the hour drive up to Santa Barbara to work with the Koegel Autism Center to work on tuning up my social skills and  on my speeches. I also try to get together with my friends who still live in Santa Barbara or are still at the Autism Clinic while I am up there. Sometimes we will go out to eat at a Santa Barbara restaurant that we used to frequent while I was a student at UCSB or try something new. Other times we will go have coffee at one of Santa Barbara's many unique coffee houses. Or we will simply take a stroll around the UCSB campus and catch up. 

I very much enjoy visiting these friends who I got to know during college. In fact, it is one the highlights of my week. For other friends who have since moved away from Santa Barbara, I still manage to keep in contact with them via email, Facebook or phone. If those friends are in Santa Barbara visiting, I  make a point of driving up there to see them while they are in town. I will continue to make a major effort to remain friends with all these people who I got to know during my college years for many more years to come.