Tuesday, May 10, 2011

You Gotta Have Friends

I have been thinking a lot about Jacob and friendship lately. It’s the one thing I swore I would “fix” this year and just haven’t, in any way shape or form. I recently wrote a post about how Jake’s best and only friend is a stuffed Curious George.

When Jake didn’t care about friends it made me sad, but now that he’s aware, actively seeking friends, wants other kids to play with him? It’s damn near breaking my heart on a daily basis.

I know for a lot of kids on the autism spectrum, it’s often more of a problem for the parents than the kids themselves, but Jacob frequently expresses his desire for friends. It’s just that he has bucketfuls of social desire mismatched with a thimbleful of the social skills necessary to make and keep them. Big sigh. He’s learning, but it’s a glacially slow process and he and I are growing frustrated, impatient.

It’s also not quite 100% true that he never plays with other kids. Jake has yet no friendship with a same age child that has the possibility of becoming long term, but he does from time to time play with the much younger siblings of his twin brother Ethan’s friends.

And these 2 and 3 year-olds love to play with Jacob: a “big kid” who will give them the time of day, unlike their older brothers who disdain them for their “babyness” much the same way Ethan dismisses Jake. So Jacob does have playdates with Caroline, a delightful 3 and 1/2 year old whose play level actually matches Jacob’s at the moment.

The sad thing is, though, that I can’t let him get too attached to her, because I have been warned that within a year, possibly less, her play will become more complex and verbally imaginative, move beyond him. That, certainly by the time she hits 5, enters kindergarten, she will soon learn to judge, will become aware that Jake is “weird,” begin to reject him as a playmate, turn exclusively to her classmates instead.

But for now? It can be magic. But not easy magic, they have to be watched carefully, very carefully. Because Jacob? Completely unaware of how big and strong he is, especially in relation to little three year-olds. And Jake’s play is often physical, his love enthusiastic and dangerously ebullient. His hugs? Could squeeze the stuffing out of someone, unless carefully monitored. So even when happily on a playdate Jake needs (exhausting) intense one-on-one supervision.

And then there is his twin brother, Ethan. I have written about their fractious relationship many times before; in fact, most recently in last month’s HP post. To say that this is not what I had envisioned when told I was carrying twin boys would be an understatement of epic proportions. Some days are worse than others, but some are, occasionally, nearly good.

My Mothers Day gift from my family had been a weekend away from them, so on Sunday I was busy returning from Boston for most of the day. My husband had work to do, so after a morning of male movie bonding (Thor, naturally) our wonderful babysitter Brandi took over.

While Boston was experiencing scattered heavy showers, it was a perfect spring day in New York City, so after a lovely lunch at the local Shake Shack (where they keep a separate fryer for gluten-free fries and make sure the “no bun” burger goes nowhere near gluten, too), she brought them to an outdoor basketball court. 

One thing Jacob and Ethan share at this point in their lives is a love of basketball. And on Sunday, they actually proceeded to play together for hours. Without Ethan screaming that Jake wasn’t playing right, without Jake grabbing the ball and running away with it, maniacally laughing.

This was nothing short of a Mothers Day miracle. Brandi, realizing this, texted me about it. I replied: “Take pictures!” Which she did, and e-mailed them to me, see:

So the next time Ethan tells me he never ever enjoys being with his brother, and that they just can’t spend any time together, I have proof that sometimes it works out.

And I came home with hope, lightening my heart. A lovely Mothers Day gift, indeed.


Varda writes about "birth, death and all the messy stuff in the middle" on her blog "The Squashed Bologna: a slice of life in the sandwich generation"  She also tweets as @Squashedmom. Varda is proud to be a Hopeful Parent.


  1. Priceless!!! So wonderful that they were able to play together and enjoy each other's company. I have to keep my two kids on the spectrum separated most of the time (for my sanity!), but there are times they come together and it's simply beautiful. I'm so happy you had a lovely Mother's Day!

  2. This really hits home with me. I have a 25 year old son that is on the autistic spectrum. He has no friends his age but has found some 7th and 8th graders that he rides bikes with and some younger children he plays kick ball with. Eventually they grow and move on and then somehow, somewhere he comes up with a new group. It is sad to see the desire for friendship but not really being able to make those connections that do establish typical friendships. His brother who is 22 and just graduated from college has a hard time doing anything social with him. It is pretty much up to me to try and fill his social needs. I have a hard time on a day to day basis trying to come up and keep up with trying to entertain him. I am amazed at the many young children that love him and enjoy his company. He is like you said the older brother who will roll the kickball to them, talk to them and show concern for them. He wants to make sure they are safe and enjoys being a caretaker. We have been in groups with disabled young men that go bowling and on outings together, but they are into their own interest and friendships never really jell. What is wonderful are the many people my son encounters that do show support and understanding and that I am thankful for.

  3. Ethan and Jacob were so wonderful Sunday. It truly is blessing to see them really "together"!

  4. There is so much good stuff in this post. But what really hit home for me is seeing your son playing with the younger girl. My daughter (age 2) still thinks her big brother (almost 4) is the greatest thing ever, but she is already surpassing him in so many ways.
    I've heard that kids can start to get mean around first and second grade, and maybe Jacob's friend will leave him behind. But maybe she'll also learn about differences and carry that experience with her through her life.

  5. We've seen this with our son, who's 12 1/2 now and has Aspergers. He has always related better to kids much older or much younger than himself. His own peer group is the most difficult for him to get along with. Through Boy Scouts he has made a good friend, and he has another friend in his class (both boys have AS and/or ADD/ADHD). The older Scouts have been awesome in helping him get along in a group, just doing typical guy stuff. Our son also loves to be with little kids, and 2-3 year olds simply adore him. He's volunteering in our church nursery now - a great place for him to feel needed and accepted without any social baggage. The difficult thing is that his 9 year old NT sister is surpassing his social/emotional maturity now, and she is totally aware of his social awkwardness and general lack of people skills. It's hard to have to explain to her why her brother acts younger than her at times, and even harder to know that eventually she will have to look out for him somewhat - he's not her protector (although he has lately shown flashes of that instinct), she'll have to help him.
    It's so lovely that you have the knowledge of that Mother's Day afternoon when your boys played and laughed and hung out just like any other boys. I treasure those times when our son has done the same thing, because it's not a frequent occurrence in spite of all the progress he has made.

  6. Dear Friends of Bloom
    I would like to encourage some of the parents on this blog to check out Special Hockey International for their young children, teens and young adults. We have two boys, one with Asperger's Syndrome and one with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. They are fourteen and fifteen years of age and both of them play hockey for the Kawartha Komets Special Needs Hockey program, which my husband and I started in Peterborough Ontario in 2009. There are thirty such teams in Ontario. Before we started this team neither of our sons had any friends and I have done play dates for years. Our eldest son with Asperger's Syndrome has had two long term friendships with other children but the friendships fell apart because one child changed schools and the parent of the other child didn't want to follow the rules of our hockey program.. They now have friends who call every weekend to do lots of things. They actually had calls this winter to go out and play hockey on the canal with their new found team mates. Even if your child does not show an interest in hockey take him out anyway and let him try it several times. We never thought our youngest son would ever play. He had sixteen private lessons and he only ever learned to stand on the skates. Due to the efforts of some amazing volunteers he now would not miss a practice or game. Don't let anyone ever tell you the children with Asperger's are not team players either because it has taken our eldest son three years to learn how to work as a team and learn how to pass the puck to his team members. Assume competence until proven otherwise. Check out Special Hockey International and click on member clubs. View some of the videos and read their material. This league is nicknamed "The Heart League" for a reason. There are many wonderful players, parents and volunteers involved.
    Carol Fisher