I blog about this a lot because I really need to create/ build on the idea that not everybody associates with kids on the autism spectrum and that is the need to have friends!
I have heard from less aware educators to parents that our kids prefer to be alone and do not enjoy the company of other peers. I have heard that social skills do not have value for our kids from school systems and parents who prefer worksheets to playdates because they are not rewarded by peer interaction and once the behavior is learned it will quickly be forgotten as they will not engage unless prompted to do so by a reward based economy.
This idea of socially disinterested kids with autism should have gone the way of the refrigerator mom theory of years past but it still lives in 2011! I know dozens of people with autism (my son included) who crave social interaction and the attention of others. I know of only two people with autism who did not seem by outward appearances of the like who do not seem socially inclined of the likely more than 900 people with autism I have seen in real life and on documentaries!
This brings me to a subject I know better my Bird (my son with autism) and his relationships with other people. As stated in other blogs I have his permission to write about his life as well as the permission of my 2 other children and husband.
Bird met his best friend “Rick” when he was 4 years old at his own birthday party. I had seen this child at an ACME event that his parents put on for the autism community and found out that they lived only a mile away from our home. “Rick” was the same age as Bird and very close to the same level of function with really delightful parents so I aggressed them for contact information so that they boys could meet at a later date.
These lovely folks showed up to Bird’s birthday party with “Rick” and while the boys were both non-verbal at the time we got a few pictures of them together and struck up a friendship. Over time the boys spent more time together and slowly learned language, turn taking and the really important skill of video gaming! Each boy was and still is in a home based ABA/VB program learning skills that they would use when together working on 2 way conversation, appropriate slang, winning and losing with grace and so much more.
The boys now 6 years later have had more than 25 sleep overs, 100’s of playdates, and outings and really crave each others time and attention. They have a beautiful relationship of fun, occasional spats and camaraderie that I don’t think Bird will have as truly with a typical friend. Both boys have a great mix of typical friends and friends with autism but I feel like the older they get the more friends they need with autism who share the same experiences and offer the same amount of stress-less encounters. Bird is never so relaxed with his typical friends who notice when he falters as he is with his friends with autism. Both neuro-typicals and friends on the spectrum are vital to his becoming the man he (not we….he has already surpassed who I thought he would be) wants to be.
Long and short, get out their and help your child create relationships in a non-aggressive way! Parallel play is fine even if it’s not age appropriate just don’t force the interactions by making demands in a relationship. If more one on one play develops (this took us years!) than great but respect that your child might prefer to play near another child simply for the idea of having other kids around and pair that child heavily with reinforcement. Dr. Carbone is coming to the Fairfax area March 11, 12 and 13th and some of the techniques we used early on were because of him! Jeb Baker is great for kids who are higher functioning or with Asperger’s Syndrome for social skills building. In particular I loved his Picture Book and used it a lot with Bird when he was in 2nd grade to work on interpersonal space, requesting help, requesting attention and joining in group games. It is written so that your child can see the appropriate way to do something and the inappropriate way to do something and you review the pages you have learned repeatedly while slowly adding new pages to the child’s skills.
That’s all for now!