“The Big A. The Gift that Keeps on Giving.”
Autism is no picnic
Having a child on the spectrum is no picnic. Even if your child is high functioning there are still many hills to climb, assorted obstacles to normalcy. One of those challenges is social skills.
The Early Years
When my son was a toddler he preferred to play by himself. I’d go to the child development center to pick him up and invariably he’d be sitting alone. That was several years before we got the autism spectrum diagnosis of PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified).
As he got older we noticed that he gravitated towards older kids and he really liked teenage girls. And, his Dad was sort of proud of that. Again, before we knew he was on the spectrum.
When he went to elementary school it was hard for him to make friends because he didn’t always know how to verbalize how he was feeling so if someone got in his space he might pinch them, scratch them or hit them. There was a boy his age who lived next door and he would go over and play video games (this was before we had a PS2 and before Wii came out). If he got frustrated with the game he threw the controller. And, that was not cool. We tried to explain to him that he couldn’t do that. After a few times the other boy didn’t want to play with him anymore.
We got his diagnosis right before he turned 6 and enrolled him in a social skills group. I remember the first time we went there. It was a little intimidating even for me. One of the children was older and was refusing to go in and practically had to be drug into the room. Luckily my son was interested in participating. The problem was that he was one of the highest functioning kids there so it really wasn’t much benefit to him.
New house, new school
The first Christmas we lived in this house my husband asked my son what he wanted for Christmas. My son, then a third grader, replied that he wanted a friend. Something like that really pulls at a parent’s heartstrings, you know? You see even though we had my son in Scouts so he could get to know some of the other neighborhood boys, he didn’t quite fit in and for the first year we invited a bunch of them to his birthday party. After awhile you sort of figure out who might be his friend and who won’t.
In fourth grade, he had a couple of boys who would try and stick up for him when other kids tried to pick on him. By now the hitting, scratching and pinching had pretty much resolved itself. And the problem was that he really didn’t get that these other kids were picking on him. It rolls right off his back — which can be good and bad.
We had some play dates at our house with those boys who stuck up for him and a couple of them ended up being his friends. Our ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapists spent time with them too to help facilitate the play dates and help him with his social skills.
They went to the pool, did clubs at school, played after school and on weekends and went out to eat together. Until recently.
Trouble in Paradise
Earlier this year my son began having difficult moments with one of his friends. Harsh words were spoken. A conversation took place between myself and the other Mom. If I had left it up to my son he would never tell me anything was wrong. I never knew such drama occurred between boys.
The first time I was able to talk to my son. Both my husband and I explained to him how you should treat a friend if you want to keep them. The next day he went to school and worked it out and everything seemed back on the right track. About six weeks later it happened again. Again we spoke with him. An apology was made but things weren’t quite the same. Where he normally played with his two friends most Saturdays, only one invitation was issued in a couple of months.
The Final Straw
Then Friday the phone call I didn’t want to get came. It was my son’s friend. Several times that day he tried to talk to my son and my son kept running away. Finally when he was able to get an answer on why my son was acting that way, my son replied that he was tired. There was some talk about not getting invited to a birthday party (my son’s) and it just wasn’t nice. Why does picking up on social cues have to be so hard? We discussed the situation with him. Were we able to break through to him? I thought so, but maybe not. Several times over the weekend he tried to contact his friend through face time, text and phone calls. One brief response came of “I’m busy.”
This morning I reminded him that he needed to resolve the situation and how he should do it. Unfortunately it did not go well. Now my son is down to one friend. My husband says, “The big A. The gift that keeps on giving.” I ask him to please not be negative and to try and find something positive in the situation. Sometimes the situation seems so bleak.
This evening when we asked my son who he sat with at lunch he said he sat down with some girls but they got up and left. He ate alone.
My son is a great kid. He has quirks. He wants to have friends. I hope that as he gets older more people will look past his social awkwardness and he will become better at reading social cues.