The other afternoon I looked out and saw Ethan running through our backyard with two other boys who live in neighboring houses. They were all chasing each other with giant sticks, yelling like wild men. I felt as if I was back in my childhood, back momentarily in a time when kids more readily ran through each other's yards, stayed out until twilight, and dirtied themselves in the woods. At one point (before my chiding) the hose came out. Then they were apparently throwing Pokeballs at each other. This went on for what had to be close to two hours.
In addition to the backyard shenanigans, Ethan has been begging me for weeks to set up playdates with two OTHER boys, close friends he's known since preschool. Now that school has started up again he tells me the sports on the playground have, too. Some days at recess he and a small group of boys find something to play. Right now it's football.
These are the moments I can never take for granted.
We all know the social piece is hard for people with autism. More than that, sometimes hanging out with other kids isn't something a kid on the spectrum wants to do. They're happy playing alone, and in those times it can be harder on the parents. Or worse, I think, is when a child really WANTS to play with others but doesn't have the skills to get along appropriately without being teased or misunderstood.
For a long time Ethan fell squarely in the category of not really caring about playing with other kids. While he didn't exhibit the kinds of behaviors that really make a kid stand out, he saw no problem with just going up and down a slide over and over again.
I learned you cannot make a child care about playing with other kids. Ethan, over time, learned that he really liked his two buddies from preschool. I'm sure it helped that both are a bit unflappable and forgiving...happy-go-lucky types that weren't about to throw in the towel because Ethan didn't always want to play THEIR game. For two solid years we spent many, many afternoons on the playground after school. And somewhere along the way we realized Ethan was a more social person than we had given him credit for. He just needed time. He needed us to stop pushing. And he needed playmates (and parents!) who could sometimes be as flexible as we often demanded him to be.
I don't know what friendships will look like, as he grows older. I don't know how the social piece will pan out. I just know that right now, there is no sweeter sound than hearing a gaggle of boys yelling and laughing. I look outside and feel incredibly blessed. When we moved into this neighborhood, almost all of the houses were filled with older people. Now there are boys his age right next to us. And I think -- how blessed has he been to be placed with two awesome little guys with two wonderful families, year after year, class after class in school? They're not always together, but even if they are not in class, they remain close, even as they've moved on to the third school since they've known each other.
Sometimes I just don't know what to say. So I will end with this, at the risk of appearing as if I'm wagging my finger and nagging. Forgive me, if I do. If you have a child who is running around your house with friends, making messes, inventing crazy games, taking stupid risks, and generally creating havoc, try to take a deep breath. You are living a sweet moment that may only appear that way in retrospect. You are witnessing a milestone that seems for many kids close to effortless -- making friends, making human connections -- but is actually yet another everyday miracle.
Thursday, September 15, 2016
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