Benny craves friendships and has made a few close friends over the past three years. It takes a solid, strong and insightful child to make it past the first few play dates with Benny.
Benny often ignores his friends at first, preferring to hide out in his bedroom or watch a video when they come to the house for the first time. I shy away these days from first time dates because they are so difficult for us all. I rationalize that Benny has two close friends and that is enough for now. For the past few months though he has been asking to have Jake come and I finally asked his mother and he came for his first visit today.
Benny waits by the window for hours anticipating the arrival of his friend, but as soon as the doorbell rings, he retreats to his room, and will not come out. In his room he is busy making strange noises- loud raspy attempts to imitate the ignition on a bus. I know this only because I see him holding his eyes to the wheels of a picture he had drawn. To Jake it must sound very scary.
Jake is a quiet boy with the largest blue eyes I have ever seen. His face has not caught up yet to his large front teeth and I see that he is close to tears.
Benny is not content to simply be alone in his room, he calls out to me repeatedly that I should tell Jake to leave, that he does not like Jake and he does not want to play with him.
I can’t figure out who to attend to first, but I choose Benny. My attempts to reason with him and then cajole him to go out and play make him angry and he decides to send me to my room, to my bed, yell at me to stay put and tell me that I am in time out. As he slams the door I felt a momentary relief.
I decide to stay in my room, curl up in my bed and feel the guilt for having made the move to an inclusive district. Suddenly it seems a cruel trick to have placed him beside the typical. Had he stayed in a self-contained program, there would be no bright eyed boy experiencing rejection in my living room, while I sit in exile behind a door. And Benny would not be failing to connect with a boy he adores, striving to make connections which might be out of reach.
So I begin to write and as I write I hear them talking. Jake asks where I went and Benny explains that he put me in time out. Jake questions further, does not really get it, and I fear that when he tells his mother, she will lose respect for me as well. It seems however that Jake thinks Benny is quite clever and cool. They discuss my situation for a few minutes and I hear Benny has softened, a kinder gentler child is back and slowly and quietly I open the door. I sneak into the den and continue to write, now on the couch tucked beneath my favorite window.
They are in the basement now laughing so hard I can’t make out the words. I tip toe to the door, they are playing trains, Benny is the LIRR and Jake is an AMTRACK. They build a track of big soft blocks and they race around, up and down, and then they find the hula hoops to use somehow. They run for a half an hour and I know they must be sweating now. I leave my den to bring them ice cold water and big stick pretzels. They eat them quickly, they ask for more. They are still giggling as they sit and snack, Benny telling Jake our recent trip to the city. I try to hold back my tears until I am safely out of sight.
How do you deal with the social challenges of raising a child on the spectrum? Does your child crave friendships he is not always ready to handle? Does anyone have an unusual play date story to share?