When I was young, I didn’t have many friends. Until about halfway through my first year of high school, in any given year, there were only about three people in my life that I felt close to who were not members of my family. As I have grown and become better at making friends, my circle of intimate, non-familial relationships has widened. While this personal and interpersonal growth has been wonderful, I have still felt a certain sense of loneliness. Although my friend group expanded, I still felt that I was unique amongst my peers—included, but different. That was, at least, until I met my friend Kathleen.

Kathleen and I were put on the same floor of West Hall our first year. When I first mentioned to my floor that I was autistic—over a meal I believe, which is typically when the whole autism thing comes to light—Kathleen spoke up and said that she too was autistic. What followed was, and I hope continues to be, a wonderful friendship.

Kathleen wears the same thing every day: a dress or skirt, a T-shirt, and a vest. A chain hang around her neck, attached to which is the face of a strapless watch and a small, simple cross, all of which is overlaid with a lanyard, onto which she has attached her OneCard. Around her wrists is a collection of bands and bracelets, which are mostly made of paper. Often times when she is thinking, she will use one hand to twirl a bracelet around the other. I do not believe that she has ever once purposefully looked me the eye; when she listens to you speak her eyes are often focused on your right ear, or looking into the middle distance. This is not to say that she is not a good listener. One does not need their eyes to hear.

When eating, Kathleen prefers simple foods. At the dining hall, she will often have only two or three foods on her plate, all separated so as not to touch each other. When she can, she walks barefoot, which she has been reprimanded for several times while on campus. When writing essays she much prefers a typewriter to a computer because the computer screen hurts her eyes. And when talking with others, she often asks for statements to be rephrased, having possibly missed a joke or the use of sarcasm. She is, in general and in particular, quite an autistic person.

For much of our lives, both she and I have faced adversity because of traits like these. Being told that we are ungrateful because we can only eat certain foods. Being told that we are inflexible because we hold to routines and patterns. Being told to “get over it” when someone touches us and scares us. When alone, these are often the traits that isolate us and make things difficult for us. But when we are together, we revel in these commonalities.

We once had a long conversation about food and our complicated relationship with it. One of us mentioned fruit salad, and we were both overjoyed to find that we could both tell when the fruits had and had not been touching each other and mixing together. We also discovered that it bothered both of us very much when they did. The moment was very particular, very specific, but we made a special kind of connection because of it. Like many other experiences that we would later identity, neither of us had ever met another person who understood that very particular discomfort, that very particular experience and finding some who did understand was like finding one’s parent or guardian in a crowded mall: the relief of a familiar face in a sea of the strange and unknown. Finally, we had each found another person that understood us. Perhaps not entirely (we are by no means the same person), but in a way that no one else did.

Our friendship has quickly grown over the past year and I hope it will continue to grow beyond that. Her presence in my life has highlighted to me the importance of community—and especially autistic community—in my life. To share in a set of common experiences, universal to us and yet incomprehensible to others, has made navigating this neurotypical world a whole lot easier. I can only hope our little community of two will continue to grow—the more the merrier.