Saturday, May 27, 2006

Autism and Friendship

When Ben was young, the most heart-rendering thing about Autism was the "inability to form" friendships. This was reiterated the other night at the ADHD support group (Ben fits the ADHD label more so than autism, because his is so mild...He attends an Asperger's class...). One mother was so sad that her child would never have friends. I tried to tell her that things are not always as cut and dried as the "experts" might have it seem.

Even back in the days when Ben was attending the Early Child Development preschool, he had a friend. The teacher said they used to hold hands going down the hall. (Ben was three at the time!) So, I thought it might be wise to invite Juan, his brother and mother over to the house to swim in our little plastic pool.

Juan was the cutest little kid, but he was like a preschooler on high-speed, moving a hundred miles an hour! That kid had more energy than the energizer bunny! Just being around him hyped me up!

We moved far away, never to see little Juan Diego again.

After we had been in our new apartment about a year, the cutest little guy with his curly hair and round glasses and Portuguese accent asked "Can your kid play?". I knew when I saw him he would be Ben's friend. He reminded me so much of the ornery little poops in my family. He was a little hell cat and at six years old his mom would kick him out of the house to play, and he was welcome here. Because of Sean, Ben went to his first sleepover in second grade. He was a very lovable kid, very friendly, but most of the parents kicked him out after a bit, because he tended to STAY! He and Ben watched "Sponge Bob" and made fart noises, and generally got into mischief. But I knew it was good for Ben. When Sean moved away, Ben was sure he would never have a friend again.

Sean's parents were very good people. His Mom grew up in the Azores,near Portugal; his Dad was Air Force retired...An electrical engineer, making good money. At the time Ben was having so much trouble at school I was ready to sue to have him placed in a private school for kids with learning disabilities (Glenforest). In talking to his Dad, he told how he had flunked 4th and 10th grade in school. Somehow, that gave me HOPE! And I wondered, again, why this ADHD thing and friendship for Ben came up.


Next, a cute, pudgy little black kid with glasses came around. Now, Ben's Dad said, "He's gonna be Ben's friend". Joseph (Joe) was being home schooled. I wonder if it wasn't because a teacher had suggested "Ritalin". ALSO, just so happens, Joe has an older brother who has severe Autism, and at age 13 is just beginning to use words. Strange how these things go. Ben and Joe get along pretty good, although Joe is friends with everybody in the apartment complex, but tends to stay...

Which brings us to today...

In Ben's Asperger's class, there is a little girl called Rachel.

"Rachel says she'll be my girlfriend, mom. But I don't know...She's in 7th grade..." He obviously was worried about the May-December aspect, as he's only in 6th.

"Do you like her?" I ask.

"Yes, she's nice...She calls Caleb a twit!" he says, speaking of his competition in class.

On the last day of school, they traded phone numbers and promised to get together.

Ben has been cleaning up around the house, specifically his room, getting ready to call Rachel when she gets back from a three day outing to Charleston. Instead, she calls this morning and asks Ben to go swimming. They eat pizza, and later go to see Grace Stables, where Rachel has her own horse. It also so happens that they do therapeutic horseback riding there. Rachels mom says Rachel has blossomed and rides competitively now.

Anyhow, Rachel loves animals as much as Ben loves Hot Rods and Choppers, his current obsessions.

When Rachel's mom brings her and Ben back to our house, Rachel notices the bird, Georgie, right away.

"Can we bring Georgie to our house?" she asks. She sees the fish, Skippy.
"Can we bring Skippy to our house?" she asks, while everyone is talking one hundred miles an hour.

She goes after the bird, and immediately gets Georgie to sit on her hand, something we are seldom able to do. I have never seen the bird so acceptable of human interference. Georgie usually does her "I vant to be left alone!" deal with us.

"I like animals...I talk about them all the time...that's why I don't have many friends..." Rachel says, and I am thinking of Ben and his cameras and cars and 60's music and motorcycles, that none of his friends seem to care too much about.

"Do you get bored when Ben talks about his stuff?" I ask.

"No, I understand..."

And the two are making big plans to get together the next day with or without the parent's permission...talking right over us and making plans.

Rachel's mom and I decide maybe we ought to give it a rest of a few days.

But I imagine they'll be getting together.

It's not a point of difficulty in making friends...it seems it's more finding the right kinds of friends.

Please never give up hope.

6 comments:

Jannalou said...

It can be difficult to make friends when you're different, to be sure. But it's absolutely a matter of finding the right people to befriend, more than anything else.

Me: I'm ADHD. I somehow have a lot of friends, and people like me (always have, apparently, though I never felt it when I was young). But I didn't become friends with the young woman who has been my best friend for almost ten years until she was in grade 12 and I was in University (she's 3 years younger than I). This in spite of the fact that our parents are quite good friends and her older brother is just a month younger than I am (our mothers used to take us swimming together). Our best friendship has survived me living elsewhere for four years in the middle there, and it will survive us getting married (someday), and it will survive her moving to New York for school next year (a move I am supporting 100%, because she is following her dream and this friendship has already survived us living in different cities).

A former client: This girl is autistic. She's 11, turning 12 in September, and incredibly bright and outgoing. Her speaking ability isn't the greatest (I think in large part due to an auditory processing disorder that her parents still haven't had her tested for), yet she has more friends than I did at her age. Everyone wants to be friends with her, spend time with her, play with her.

So much has to do with attitude.

Kristina Chew said...

Thanks for sharing Ben's "history of friendships of all kinds." Charlie has had a few children who he gets to know a bit, though it always seems that either they or we move and lose track quickly. Your post makes me more than hopeful!

Kristina Chew said...

Thanks for sharing Ben's "history of friendships of all kinds." Charlie has had a few children who he gets to know a bit, though it always seems that either they or we move and lose track quickly. Your post makes me more than hopeful!

Elizabeth said...

My husband and I want to make a documentary about friendships between young children with autism and their typically developing peers. What do you think about this idea?

Elizabeth said...

My husband and I want to make a documentary on friendships between young children with autism and their typically developing peers. What do you think of this idea?

r.b. said...

You know, Elizabeth, I think that Ben had FEW if any relationships with "typically developing peers"...they were all "his kind" in one way or another.

Ben got nabbed early in his school career because of my background in education. The lable austracized (sp?) a little, too.

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