Social Challenges For All 3

I have recently been dealing with not only Gabriel’s challenging mood swings, but the fact that he is now keenly aware that he does not have “play dates” or other friendships.

It has come to be that Nick, my darling yet O-so-NT son has a social calendar that rivals most teenager's.

While I get emails from the parents’ of Nick’s friends, who ask for play dates and go out of their way to make their schedules match ours, I do not get that same luxury with Gabriel.

Which he hasn’t noticed until now.

I was told when we first went through social skills classes about a year and a half ago, that it was second grade where the boys and girls mostly stopped playing together—where birthday parties would be just boys or just girls.

At first I thought that is totally what is going with Gabe this year; a natural progression with age. He is in second grade and it is getting worse, that should be expected.

But, wait.

He has friends at school that are girls.

But by friends I also mean girls he *thinks* are his friends. For the record, I am not entirely clear on his criteria for someone being his “friend” other than they go to school together.


That said, when I call his classmates' parents to arrange a play date, I don’t get a good response (technically, the last message hasn't been returned; maybe they'll call...). But, if I weren’t me, and I had NT girls, and the mom of an autistic boy called and said, “Hi, my son wants to play with your daughter,” I might not be as understanding or nonjudgmental as I would like to think. I don’t know.

Anyway, what I have figured out, is that Gabriel has the same number of friends at school and the same number of play dates this year as he has every other year of his life: none.

What has changed is that Nick has started school and Gabriel is able to see what his brother is doing. What friends he has. The kids that line up, literally, to play with Nick at recess. The parents who email every week to get Nick to play at their house, and when asked, how quickly Nick has a list of ONLY BOYS who are invited to his birthday party next month. Suddenly, Nick has a real social life and Gabe is clear on what he doesn’t have.

It is so sad. Heart breaking.

I have begun calling the moms of other kids with HFA that can relate to Gabriel, that can have him at their house and handle the conflicts that may arise and that like me enough (I sure hope) to do *me* the favor of having my son over so he feels like he has friends. I could cry.

I know he needs friends. Everyone knows that kids need friends. The school asked us at conference time if we wanted to implement an Autism Curriculum where Gabriel, among many other things, would be assigned a friend each day to sit with at lunch and play with at recess.

I am not ready for this. It feels so inorganic and foreign to me.

But I feel awful because I think Gabriel needs it more than he is letting on.

He has begun telling us that he plays alone every day.

That no one sits with him at recess.

And that kids are calling him names.

We actually talk openly about this. I have noticed that the more honest he is the better he seems to feel. But I have also noticed that he is having a harder time overall. He is more irritable and is usually in a foul mood.

He told me that his teacher had told the class that they should all make a point of talking to new kids. I am sure this is aimed at my kid, but am very thankful that this is discussed with the broader group as to not single him out.

So, Gabriel was sitting at recess, on a step, and two other seven year old boys sat down (or the opposite, he sat with them, I will never know).

Gabe says, “Do you want to talk?”

And the kids laugh.

My little B&W thinker was taking the “talk with other kids” statement literally, and the 7 year old boys (who were not in his class) are not accustomed to other kids asking them to talk in that manner.

I did a little lesson in that minute about how when we want to talk to someone, we talk about things that we may have in common--instead of asking them to "talk". Like let’s say the kid has a Star Wars shirt on, then you say, “Hey, I like your shirt—I loved that movie--have you seen it?”

And Gabriel says, “Yes, people like compliments.”

“True. Did you leave after the boys didn't want to talk?”

“No, I talked to the kids.” He says.


“What did you talk about?”

“I explained to them what Gluten Free was.”


“OH, what did they think?” I knew what they thought, but was hoping for the best.

“They laughed at me. They didn’t think it was cool.”

“Yeah, I can see that handsome. I am sorry they laughed at you.” I say.

We have been talking about the word “privacy” as it relates to not sharing those kinds of things with EVERYONE. We go over this concept again.

My heart hurts for him. He just doesn’t get how those social nuances work. Period. And I don’t want to teach him to be embarrassed or to have to hide any part of him. But at some point, he needs to stop talking about these things in an effort of selfpreservation.

Which brings me to last Friday.

Apparently the kids were sitting at circle time and were sharing “something you should know about me” when the principal came to the door, so the teachers left. Both teachers stepped out into the hallway.

Leaving Gabriel to share about himself unsupervised. Seriously.

So, my darling and naive son decides to educate the entire class on SPD. It went something like this,

“I have SPD. The ‘S’ stands for ‘Sensory’ the ‘P’ stands for ‘Processing Disorder’ and I don’t know what the ‘D’ stands for. It is when you have a hard time sometimes. Like sometimes I need to push things and sometimes it is overwhelming.”

Not bad.

But he says the class’s reaction wasn’t good. They didn’t believe him and didn’t think it was cool. I can hear you gasping that a room full of seven year olds didn't find SPD cool or interseting. Ugh.

So what does Gabriel do?

He hits them with his trump card: The Gluten Free Diet.

And, really truly surprising to him, they don’t seem to think learning about GF is cool either.

What do I do?

I am not sure what these kids tell their parents about Gabriel, if they talk about him at all, but I can’t imagine it is good. Can you? And that explains why no one calls for a play date.

Which brings me back to Nick.

Remember how Gabriel was keen on the compliments?

Apparently the school counselor is talking to the lower grade classes about self-esteem—or sort of anyway.

The story she tells is about a guy who has an invisible bucket. Each time something good is said to him or he has other good interactions that bucket fills up a little more each time. When someone does something bad to him, or hurts his feelings, that person is “dipping” into the guy's bucket.

The kids are able to practice giving compliments to each other in an effort to fill everyone’s bucket.

Great lesson. Very true.

When the lesson is complete in Nick’s classroom, he raises his hand and says, “My brother Gabriel is a dipper. He dips into my bucket all day.”


Nick has been sat next to a child on the spectrum in his kindergarten class. Nick is very tolerant; he lives with Gabriel every day, so this is a natural role for him.

That said, at his conference last week, his teacher asked us if he ever complained about this kid, and the truth is we had never heard of him.

She gave Nick permission to complain. We talked about how this kid is practicing being a good friend, and he wants to be a good friend, so if he is poking Nick with a paper clip, or touching his face or body, then Nick should tell him to “knock it off”.

To which Nick replied, “I thought that was an adult word.” :) My rule follower.

We agreed on some other words and Nick was ready.

And he has reported on this child’s actions every day since.

I talked with his teacher, who is ridiculously understanding, about the fact that I don’t want Nick to have to be paired up with every kid with an ASD just because he can handle it. He has to handle it every day at home. I want him to have some respite at school. Some other social life that isn’t based on what his brother can handle--or what Nick can tolerate.

She agreed, having some personal experience with just this scenario.

Then Nick came home on Friday and told me that he is going to be changing classrooms, every other day or so. LOL

Not sure what that means, but that boy is always right (he gets that from me), so we’ll wait to see where that goes.

Nick and Gabriel are still great friends. They truly are.

But they are beginning to go their separate ways socially and academically. Not sure how I feel about this yet, but I do know I want them to both be the best they can be. And having their own lives apart from each other will be key. I guess that means I am (should be) happy.

On a more uplifting note, Matthew got into the Early Intervention Program! (read the original post here)! That is him in the photo above on his 4th birthday last week--this time not touching the fire (which he did on a previous candle).

Although his biggest challenges are sensory and social (he is so his dad), he qualified in small motor skill and large motor skill in addition to social (social is simple: he isn't interested in other kids. At. All.).

I should’ve seen the motor skill thing coming.

He never sits at the table to do virtually anything besides eat or play playdoh.

He has no interest in balls.

He has no interest in his bike.

He has no interest in playgrounds; aside from the water fountain and mud.

He really isn’t a “large motor skill” kind of kid.

And as for the small motor skill stuff?

He likes to cut and play blocks, but the testing basically showed that he had some advanced skills (learning from his brothers and using a screw driver successfully for years are keys to that) but didn’t have the age appropriate ones. He was all over the map.

There has never been a mom with a more NT child than Matt as crazy-over-the-top-could-pee-her-pants-happy as I am to have him in special needs preschool. An emotional relief. People who get it. Who get HIM.

We met with his new teachers last Friday, my hubby even stayed home from work to go with me (I love that guy), and they seemed ready for him.

He immediately fell in love with the trains, not shocking there.

And the visual schedule!

I haven’t had a visual schedule for him, ever. Duh!

I have the boys’ school routines and bed time routine visually mapped out and posted, but Matt and I pretty much have no schedule during the day (which he does fine with).

He was fascinated with the schedule, until he realized he wasn’t going to get to finish the entire list of items before he had to leave. Tantrum. Short, but nonetheless.

Sounds like school will be amazing for him.

The teachers asked me when how to regulate his body for sensory issues, and I said, “Matthew still relies on me for regulation. I believe Rosemary White called it ‘physiological co-regulation’ where he comes to me when his body is out of sync for squeezing or rocking, instead of seeking it out in his environment.”

“Oh, you see Rosemary White?” (She is a OTR/L that specializes in sensory and DIR/Floortime here in Seattle with a great reputation).

“No, she was on the panel discussion at a Fundraiser our group held last month, along with Drs. Eide and other experts—that was her explanation to a question.”

“I think you are going to be too intimidating to have in our class.” They said with a laugh.


“Oh, I hope you find me to be the opposite: a true resource for your entire classroom.” I responded with a smile.

I guess we’ll see.

But, I don’t expect Matt will be their hardest child. Nor their easiest.

Now I must be off to our last “Blue Pumas” flag football game with Nick.

Don’t forget to enter the Soft Tee Giveaway,


Hartley said...

From Megan, via facebook:

Sam is struggling as son is SO happy go lucky he just doesn't understand that when a mean kid is chasing him at recess, that that's the kid being mean, not being friends. "THEY CALL ME WEIRD! Isn't that funny Mama? Hahaha!". He might as well rip out my heart and start beating it with a hammer.

I don't know if you're aware, but Merriah and... Read More I are working hard on a project at school called Circle of Friends--you related to it when you mentioned teachers asking if they should assign someone to sit with Gabriel at lunch etc during the day. It contains that idea as well as a good solid 2 1/2 weeks of age appropriate disability education. Pretty rad!

You're not alone, Hartley. You really aren't. And Gabriel is welcome here.

Hartley said...

My response, on FB: Thanks Megan! I have looked into that cirriculum, and I am not comfortable with it. After consulting a professional autism educator, she felt it was too advanced for my son's age group (seven year olds) and that until children had a firm grasp of disabilities (not accomplisehd in two and half weeks) they wouldn't be able to be accepting of ... Read Moredifferences in the psychological way the Peer Buddy program requires (like taking volunteers and training them). I am taking her advice and following my instinct and am turning down the program. There are other cirriculums (like the SARRC FRIENDS program) that seem to be set up more to my liking (adding my child to an already existing group and allowing for postive social feedback under weekly guided meetings), but I am not ready to implement that until he is older and able to process feedback positively. Until then, we are going to purse other avenues of education -- such as formal teacher training which our school lacks. It is a rough path for all of us, and hopefully you and Merriah will find great results from the Peer Buddy program! Keep me posted on it! H

Hartley said...

Megan Weichert Eklund commented on your post:

"It's going pretty well so far. This week it was all about invisible disabilities; next, it's autism, and then we are reading the stories about Sam and her son. I am putting together the visual calendar this weekend. It is a lot to ask of seven year olds, but I'm confident this is good. The teachers are watching the Tony Attwood videos & have gotten great learning out of them, I've already seen a change!

The SARRC Friends is a great program, a really great one. My nephew was a part of that and it worked well; he's nine. Good luck!!"

carol said...

Not to depress you but my autistic son is 26 and he still has no "friends" or "play dates." In some ways he wants them but the reality of relationships is they "bug" him. however, he has a good life, he owns his own condo, has a job, a cat, and eats dinner with his family a couple of nights a week.

Hartley said...

Hi Carol,

You know, I don't think that is depressing at all--I truthfully can't wait until he has his own "life" and can stop comparing what he does or does not have to his peers or brothers.

Not every person wants the same thing--thank you for remindng us of that.


Hartley said...

From Mel:
Ouch. It's a tough row to hoe, sistah. Went through similar challenges with the Mitch-man. It did get better as the kids got a little older and had enough maturity to be taught about differences. Things got a whole lot better when we found other families with kiddos like Mitch. Hang in. They have you and that's a lot. :)