My son, P. is nearly 13 and we had a long conversation about friendship the other day. He had a very close friend for much of his elementary school career that he had initially met at preschool. When they were in 4th grade, that friendship and the others that P. had carefully cultivated withered away.
I can attribute part of that shift to differences in development. The things that P. was interested in were intellectually and socially a mismatch for other 4th grade children. His intellectual skills were many grades ahead of his peers; his social understanding several grades behind.
But that would only be part of the story. The biggest reason for P.'s social isolation that year was J. If P. was years behind the social development of his peers, J. was years ahead. And in that most cruel way that only socially adept children can, he picked off P.'s friends one by one. There were snide remarks in the classroom--just subtle enough that the teacher never caught them, but the other kids did. There was the not-so-subtle exclusion on the playground, the parties where the rest of the class was invited.
It was painful to watch and painful to re-live my own memories of such insidious bullying from childhood.
Now, years older and wiser, P. and I can talk about 4th grade and the hurtfulness of J. The friends P. lost have not reconnected and J. is still a ringleader and a popular kid. But among the curses of middle school are some blessings--it is bigger with more children and more opportunities to find a peer group. P. has a few kids he hangs out with at lunch and 1 close friend he plays with on weekends. He was involved in the school play this year and felt accepted by the other actors. For the most part, he seems happy.
I have told him again and again that these years are the most difficult. When he is in the adult world, he will find friends that group around common interests in a multi age environment. There is something very artificial about the way we age segregate children in this society. And that the very traits that make him stand out as different (middle school translation: vulnerable) will be what makes him appealing to potential adult friends.
Aspies are 'a multitude'--we exist simultaneously in many developmental pathways. Our intellectual age may be different from our social age and different still from our emotional age. The time these three 'ages' are most discordant is probably middle school.
Based on my own experience, I know the gap narrows later in life and things *do* get easier. There will always be people like J. I have had bosses like him and adults whom I thought were friends, but were not. But I have also made strong, lasting, and healthy friendships with good people both in the AS and NT worlds. The hurts of childhood don't go away, but they do lose the power to wound.