Can You Play?

“I want you to teach you how to play with your friends.” he said softly as he lay in bed just before falling asleep.  We were quietly lying there on a school night.  I was taken aback by the simplicity, clarity and utter heart-breaking words that smoothly rolled off his tongue.

“What?”  I asked, trying to clarify.  “You mean at school?”  I was thinking maybe he meant his toys which he often tried to anthropomorphize or maybe he was scripting or… or anything else.

“Yes.” he responded swiftly, and with that, he fell asleep.

I did not.  Pieces of my heart officially shattered and fell right out of my body.  He knows that he is different.  He wants to play with his peers.  He wants to share a smile, a laugh, a moment.  He knows it’s just outside his reach.  So, he reaches to me to help him learn.

It’s moments like these that I wonder how much his differences impact his emotions and in what way.  Whether he feels lonely or whether it’s just a fact he accepts without emotion.  But what, other than emotion, would motivate him to reach out for help in accomplishing the social interaction he seeks?  It could only be some sense of isolation or emptiness – some understanding of missing out that would prompt him to seek help.

Such a simple request.   Shouldn’t the response be just as simple?

Where to find the answer?

But it just isn’t.  The social skills that come as intuition to neurotypical children do not come naturally for my son.  He cannot read the faces of his peers.  He does not naturally interact with his environment.  He does not constantly and continuously look to see what his peers are doing, figure out what they are thinking, understand how to express himself in a conversational way, or know what kind of a response a peer or any person is looking for from him when speaking to him.

He does know some basics but his sensory needs, his lack of “normal” language, his anxiety, they all get in the way of anything except inconsistency.  He often seems aloof, strange or in another world altogether when I observe him during my volunteer time at the school.  Often, the other kids will be talking to each other and he will be silent at his desk, looking off into space, alone.  I want to rescue him but I can’t.  There is nothing I can do in those moments.

What I can do is work with him at home.  I can try to model and help him re-work his responses in the controlled environment of our home.  I can advocate for ABA programs to help hone social skills little by little, but most of those are already active working projects.  But these don’t translate to the uncertainty of a different environment with different wording from other people.

I turned to the Social Thinking website which had been recommended to me over a year ago as a place to find tools to help my son on his “social integration” path. Here, I found information so detailed, I’d need classes to comprehend the depth of what is being explained.  On the other hand, there were, likewise, tools – hands on tools, I felt I could use to help my son with his interactions in a basic way as well.  I have ordered three tools:

You Are a Social Detective

Whole Body Listening Larry at School 

We Can Make it Better:  A Strategy to Motivate and Engage Young Learners in Social Problem Solving Through Flexible Stories 

By clicking on any of the titles, you will be taken to the page that describes the books.  The website gives you sample pages that explain how the tools work.

If you click on the links to the website, you may find a valuable tool or idea to teach your own children or to find links that may assist you in social ideas for anyone with autism that struggles in social situations.  The website has tools for everyone from the preschooler to adults.  Again, as I mentioned recently with my post about Toca Boca, I do not receive compensation of any kind to promote any product or website.  I normally do not do so, but when I find a tool that I can share with basic concerns for all of us, I want to provide it to you so you can decide if it would be of help.   I don’t know yet whether these books will gather dust or if they will become tools that are second nature to us.  We’ll see.

Meanwhile though, Tootles is not an island to himself.  His aloofness is still sought out by the girls in the class.  Just as last year, Toots has found himself some female friends who seek him out when he arrives at school.  They walk him around the playground:

 They sit with him in groups:

And they draw pictures that end up in his backpack:

Alone time too, does not have to be a bad thing.

It’s just striking that balance, and then, having the option to say, “Yes, I can play,” with more ease.  It will come.  Eventually.


About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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7 Responses to Can You Play?

  1. blogginglily says:

    even the title made me sad…
    Lily hasn’t expressed any interest in playing with friends yet. Maybe some day…

  2. Mina says:

    Thank you for this post, my son is two, but I know I will be in your shoes pretty soon…

  3. Sensi really isn’t interested in playing with anyone except her brother. We have been working at this for Random for a while. He is finally accepted in a group of boys in his grade. They call themselves the “Minecraft Club” but really it is an excuse for some fantasy play and running around during recess. He is very happy to have found some friends. We are still working on those one on one friendships though.

  4. Lisa says:

    Oh, my heart is aching. With you…for you…for T. Our boys can be so similar sometimes. This?! This is another instance where Tate and T are on the same page. That longing to be a part of something…and just not quite being able maneuver it successfully?! Yeah…that. One of Tate’s therapists from the summer recommended social thinking to us, as well…and she did the “Whole Body Listening Larry at School” with Tate. His school social worker uses it, too. We have seen a huge difference. I may try to order one or two of the others you highlighted above–to reinforce what he is learning at school.

    Also?! The girls in Tate’s classes (both his self-contained AND mainstream) are his friends, too. They are very good to him and for him…as I am sure T’s friends are to him. Our boys are lucky.

  5. Mary says:

    Social Thinking is the program they used when Freckles was in Social Group at OT. She did learn a lot about identifying inappropriate behaviors in herself and others. They used the Superflex books and she can still identify Glassman, Rockbrain and-was it?- Tornado Twister. They related the program to book characters like Junie B. Jones. (Who is more socially awkward than poor Junie?)

    I don’t know how much it helped her with actually making friends though. She doesn’t get invited to anything unless the whole class is invited.

    This is one of those areas that I’m on the fence with…On the one hand, everyone needs social skills to survive. On the other hand, pushing people to be more social than they are can backfire. I still remember my mother telling the pediatrician that I had no friends when I was maybe 11? He told her to “make” me have friends. I was in Girl Scouts, school, clubs, softball, basketball… It didn’t matter. All I could really handle (and still to some extent) was 1 or 2 friends at a time. It’s too overwhelming.

    And the surprise birthday party at the roller skating rink? I loved skating but it was a disaster. Just don’t do it. 🙂

  6. Do you think that perhaps it depends on where our kids are developmentally before they can do the whole friendship thing? There are so many developmental steps that they need to attain before they understand the need for friends. I know that I would like my son to learn intrinsically and not be *taught* how to interact…

  7. Lana Rush says:

    What an utterly sad thing to hear your sweet baby say. And it makes me so sad that some of the most important things in our kiddos’ lives are often so hard. 😦 Sending prayers for Tootles and you.

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