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Thursday, April 14, 2011

*Guest Blog* Finding friends for kids on the spectrum

I asked my friend Rana if she would write a guest post for me here, and she kindly accepted. I'm so glad she did, because I love reading anything she puts together, even if it's only a few sentences. She has great insight, and can see things and solutions that are not always apparent. Rana is a homeschooler, a homemaker, and a  proud military wife.  She is also an awesome mother to two very cool kids. I hope you enjoy her post as much as I did!

I was very flattered when my friend Natalie asked me to write a guest blog on her site.  Then I became a little scared.  What would I talk about?  I mean, I know it would relate to autism, but what would it be about?   So I thought about it for a moment, and then it hit me.  What is one of the things children crave aside from the love and affection of their parents?  FRIENDSHIP.
I’m sure many of you look out your windows most days and see kids playing with their friends.  I wish that for my child.  How do we help our children on the spectrum make a friend?  First, what IS a friend?  Someone you can talk to, has similar interests, is a shoulder to cry on, and someone you can laugh with.  Webster’s Dictionary defines a friend as:  one attached to another by affection or esteem OR a favored companion.
My son is 10.5 years old and has Asperger’s.  He’s a sweet boy, but is socially awkward.  He tends to take over a conversation with his interest at the time (currently it’s HALO the video game, Mystery Science Theater 3000, and cryptozoology).  While most kids his age are riding bikes, skateboards, and running around the neighborhood, he’s content to do research on his current interests.  He’ll act stories out with his toys, or replay certain episodes out loud, to himself.  Kids his age are not interested in these things.  OK, some enjoy the talk about the video game, but only for a fleeting moment.  He has great conversations with adults, and younger kids seem to be enthralled by his knowledge.  However, most moments he’s by himself.
When we lived in Texas, there weren’t very many children on our street.  The only time he had with other children was in school, or with his younger sister at home.  Those days in school weren’t always good because the children saw they could push his buttons and attempted to get him in trouble when he would act out in frustration.  By the end of his 3rd grade year we decided to homeschool him.  I found a great homeschool group that was just getting started in our area.  All the moms and kids were very welcoming and for the first time my son got to engage with other children who didn’t judge him or try to push his buttons.  When Natalie joined the group with her kids, what a blessing it was.  Her son is on the spectrum too.  The boys hit it off immediately.  They would talk about their interests together, walk around the park, and explore things. My kiddo had a real friend!
Because my husband is military, we ended up moving to Florida in May 2010.  I was sad to leave my homeschool family.  They were such a delight.  I was very sad to leave a friend that understood the days for families like ours, and for my son to leave his friend!  How would the kids take to him in the new place?  When we got to Florida, we found out our house was right next to the playground.  Kids were always there.  While some were initially friendly, they noticed he was different.  I don’t fault them, they are kids, and they don’t get it (even if he’s explaining what Asperger’s is).  There are days they play with him, and days they don’t.  I thought he was ok with it until one day he was upset and said “I want a friend.”  Cue momma’s heart shattering.
Before we moved to Florida we had to find out what places offered therapy.  I came across one called the Autism Education Center and was hooked.  The lady that started it (it’s a non-profit) is a military spouse like me, and has three children on the spectrum.  Her oldest has Asperger’s like mine.  We decided to try a playgroup for the kids.  It is here that my son has made a true friend, his “best friend in the world.”  While they have different interests, they engage in conversation with each other, play games together, watch movies, have sleepovers, etc.  He’s found friend who is even there to listen to him about his bad days, how they feel with their siblings, parents, etc.  You name it, they talk about it.  And it’s great!
So how does another child on the spectrum make a friend?  What if they aren’t verbal?  First, if they have siblings, that can be one of their dearest friends (they just might not know it yet).  It is with their siblings that they have day to day interaction and they can play together and teach each other things.  I encourage you to connect with local families that may have children on the spectrum as well.  Start a playgroup for them.  Help them in floor play, board games, art projects, computer games even.  Together they can work on communication skills, develop their social skills, and enjoy being a kid!

  Rana's son Anthony (left), and his new best friend. :)


Brian M said...

Great post Rana :)im going to share it with my group :)
-Brian M

Serena Eaves said...

This was a really great read, you're a great writer. I wish you still lived here, I know Natalie enjoyed all of you. Love both the kiddos!

Anonymous said...

Great story. Thank-you for sharing. We have a 15 year-old with asd and it's heart wrenching to see how hard he tries to make friends.

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