My son is a beautiful 5-year-old with sensory processing disorder (SPD) and who is on the autism spectrum (ASD). He is bright and very articulate, affectionate and creative. He loves to make costumes! Cardboard boxes are his favorite artistic medium. He makes up games with the Candy Land™ board. He tells me great stories.
So why is it so hard for him to make a friend?
I mean, he has all these great qualities, right? Why does he have to be so controlling? WHY CAN’T HE JUST GET ALONG WITH OTHER KIDS?
Because the SPD/ASD affects how he experiences the world.
The unpredictability of spontaneous play is scary for him. The noises kids make, their ideas, their play can seem foreign to him. The close proximity of several kids in one place is very hard for him, and his brain calls out “HELP ME!” My son craves order and control; he needs to be able to “put everyone in place” and know how things are going to go.
He wants so much to just play, but often he is watching, waiting, and wondering. He loves to swing and jump. Slides, yeah! He can climb anything. He is an ace on the monkey bars. But for him to initiate play is a true challenge. Mostly, he just wants to play with others’ toys—and if the child will do that, things are fine. But the give-and-take of a game of kicking around a soccer ball with another kid is lost on him.
I am often his interpreter. I help the would-be friend understand that our boy wants to play. And I help my son understand the rules of the playground. It’s not cool to take others’ toys. Ask first. It’s not nice to push someone down because you want the monkey bars first. And while I think howling like a wolf because he is playing Wolf Boy is creative, others don’t know what he’s doing, so it might just sound scary.
My heart breaks every time he approaches a child on his own and he’s either ignored or the two of them can’t make a play connection.
I’m also embarrassed, admittedly, when he lashes out, either physically or with words, for reasons I cannot fathom. I’m still trying to decode this behavior. I do know he cannot deal with several kids at once. One-on-one seems to be the most successful way to go at this point.
I hear, “He’s so spoiled” (maybe) or, “He needs to learn how to play with other kids” (yeah, we are trying) or, “You are overprotecting him” (I’m helping him interpret the world). So it ends up being isolating for us both.
I am his most called-upon playmate. I homeschool him because we’ve tried public school and he’s not ready. And I set up near-daily play dates for him with kids who have made a connection—the ones, like me, who love him just the way he is.