Saturday, January 7, 2012

Play Dates with Autism and a host of other acronyms

There are certain words and phrases automatically strike fear in the hearts of parents of autistic children. Summer vacation. Low battery. Out of Goldfish crackers.  

The one that has always got me is "Play date"  The boy is 9 now- is it still considered a "play date?" What else could I call it? Hanging out? Bouncing off the walls followed by an overstimulated meltdown? That last one kinda takes the shine off what should be a fun time.  

Since social and play skills are a pretty standard deficits amongst children with autism, parents are encouraged to organize play dates with typically developing peers so that our kids can model their play schemes and behaviors.  I used to do this. When The Boy was in preschool and in kindergarten- I went out of my way to go to any and all play dates that were offered...and became a part of a babysitting exchange just for the opportunity to watch some neurotypical kids- and give The Boy an opportunity to go to their homes.  Because  we all know everything that neurotypical children do is so great and our ASD kiddos NEED to learn how to play like them. (Heavy on the sarcasm here...ok)

Try organizing a play date with other kids on the spectrum- or that have AD/HD. Or OCD. Or ODD. Or are EI. (emotionally impaired) That also gets tricky. Because - and I am being brutally honest here- there are days I can barely stand my own kid's incessant chatter about dinosaurs and Pokemon,  bouncing off the walls, picky eating habits and tendency to be drawn to all things electronic as opposed to real life interactions. I have never thought to myself  "Hey- The Boy is completely unpredictable at times, let’s invite  another one into the mix and see how crazy shit can get up in here"

Not to say we haven't had successful play dates over the years- sure we have. With both neurotypical kids AND kids on the spectrum, or AD/HD, or any other acronym you wanna throw out there. The dynamics are COMPLETELY  different of course, but one thing never changes- and that is my hovering, making sure to explain something The Boy may have just said or done that has the typical kid looking at him strangely, or diffusing what could be a very dangerous situation when two kiddos on the spectrum disagree about something- anything.   But we have survived them, and not been any worse off after. 

The scenario now: The Boy has this friend. He is in the special ed class he is in. Yeah- the school where he was to be fully mainstreamed and yet still goes to a special ed class... that is a rant for another time. This friend is the same age as The Boy. He is also EXTRAORDINARILY AD/HD. He is also very immature for his age and I suspect very emotionally impaired (EI). I have had the opportunity to work with this boy in the after school program where I work as well. I know him pretty well. And when he has a bad day he has a BAD day. An only child, he is VERY bossy and insists everything be done his way, and The Boy will do whatever he says to do- because he thinks this is how to be a good friend. ( remember the social issues thing?) We are working on that.  I truly like this kid and I feel bad because he really doesn't seem to have any other friends- with the exception of my kid anyway.  This makes my heart hurt. I see and hear how he gets picked on- and - at least in my program anyway- it is NEVER allowed.  But I only have these opportunities  for a few hours a week, and believe me - there are times I could just sit down and cry after he gets picked up. Especially when The Boy is with can get wacky.  This friend can be VERY aggressive, and shouts things like "LEAVE ME ALONE I'M GONNA KILL YOU!" when other kids are upsetting him. I have had to stop him from hitting a few times too.  But he truly seems to like The Boy, and the feeling is quite mutual. There have been times when my boy has told him to "Calm Down!"  making me feel pretty damn proud- but also wondering if fostering the friendship will cause The Boy to pick up bad behaviors not previously had- or grown out of. 

I mean, everyone wants their kid to be around, if not typical, then “higher-functioning” kids. But if most of us are somewhere in the middle, there’s always someone “higher” and there’s always someone “lower”.I may be leery of having The Boy  have a  play date with a kid who displays aggressive behaviors,  but trust me, there are plenty of kids that AREN'T lining up for play dates with him.  In the long run- I just want The Boy to have fun and be happy- regardless of the "functioning" abilities of a friend. Now- if that friend hurts my kid, starts setting fires or neighborhood puppies start disappearing- that would be a game changer. 

So today- I dove right in- talked to the mom- invited the friend over for a few hours. Now- just so you have an idea - here we have 2 nine  year old boys- both VERY into dinosaurs and Pokemon.  Both with developmental delays. One with Autism, AD/HD,  and OCD. The other severely AD/HD and suspected EI.  
It all started out great- both excited, both wanting to play different things on different electronic devices, but getting along ok...I mean- they weren't interacting a whole lot, and I was doing my best not to hover or shove them together.  There was chasing of the cat, running up and down the stairs- "normal" stuff. Then the Nerf Guns came into play. Which I was all for- they were playing TOGETHER and not on the Wii/computer/DS/iPad either. But our house is small- and it is unusually mild for January in MI, so I sent them outside. 

Within about 2 minutes of being outside- the friend decided to hit the basement window with the Nerf gun- "to see if it was plastic". It wasn't.  There was a slurry of  "I'm sorry's" and the threat of tears and a meltdown.  I didn't explode- I made sure nobody was hurt, and hubby got all the glass and boarded the window up.   I asked what happened-they told me and ran off.   So now I wonder- should I call mom? He's only been at my house for 30 minutes. I debated for a minute and then I.Let.It.Go.  Let it go! I mean- what the hell was I going to do?    

The rest of the afternoon went fine- excited and loud but fine. Then I started wondering- do I tell his mom? I mean- the kid did break a window- but it was the basement window and can be replaced fairly inexpensively (I hope). This was the first time they have played together outside of school, and it was an accident. Sort of. In the end- I didn't say a damn thing.  Right or wrong- I don't know and don't care. Maybe The Boy will go over to their house and break something. But with my luck it would be the plasma TV.