As Long as You Have One Good Friend... You're Lucky!
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Buzz & Woody: "You've Got a Friend in Me!"
For many years my sister and brother-in-law have hosted an open house in honor of St. Patrick's Day. Over time what began as an excuse for an extended drinking party grew into a more family-style event as friends and siblings started popping out kids of their own. Lots of kids. Dozens of kids!
The annual bash was held this past weekend. The day was sunny and not terribly cold for March so as each family arrived through the front door, the offspring were ushered out the back. Much to their delight, they found the yard dotted with monkey bars, tire swings, two teeter-toters and a huge swing set-slash-fort. Add a few balls and a half-dozen jugs of bubble soap and it was a playground paradise -- for the younger kids, anyway.
A month shy of thirteen, B__ was the oldest kid there, save his sister and cousin who are freshman in high school. What little time they stayed outside was spent sitting on a bench, talking. B__ towered over the younger kids like Gulliver among the Lilliputians. I shadowed him as he wandered around the yard scripting dialogue from an old episode of Dragon Tales and doing the happy-flappy. He wanted to play with the back yard toys, but nothing seemed to fit. He tried swinging on one of the tire swings, but it was too small. Another was too high, and he was much too heavy for me to lift. He tried to slide down the plastic slide, but became frustrated because it was too narrow and he got stuck halfway down.
Then he discovered this:
Photo courtesy of Photobucket
He sat himself down in the pilot's seat and turned the wheel, making the "airplane" bank left, then right. He made the appropriate zooming sounds. After a few minutes, he stopped. He looked behind him; he looked to both sides. I could see the wheels turning inside his head -- this toy was not designed for one. He called out to a group of children blowing bubbles nearby: "Hey! You kids! Come here!" They stared at him for a second, then resumed playing. He yelled to a girl swinging on the tire swing, "Hey girl, come here!" She startled, and quickly reached for her mother, who hugged her and stared at B__ over the child's shoulder. I winced at the familiar pang of grief that strikes me when I least expect it. My son was trying so hard to make friends! I began to think up a social story about introducing yourself to others.
Before I had the chance to use it, he turned to a group of children playing on the slide. "Hey!" he shouted. "Three kids!" He pointed to the empty seats behind and alongside him on the airplane. "Here, here, and here!" They whispered to each other for a few seconds, then proceeded to ignore him.
All except one.
His cousin J__, a little towhead who's only in preschool, zipped down the slide and skipped over to B__. She stood in front of him and smiled. He pointed to the seat behind him. "J__, over there... sit!" She giggled and scampered aboard. B__ called out, "Here we go!" and the two of them laughed excitedly as he banked sharply from side to side. I asked J__ where she wanted to go on her airplane trip. She answered, softly, "To Florida." That's all B__ needed to hear. Instantly he called out, "We go to WALT DISNEY WORLD!" His cousin clapped her hands and shrieked, "Yay! Walt Disney World!" Their imaginary plane took off and with a few prompts from me, they flew over Cinderella's Castle, Spaceship Earth, Mickey's Sorcerer's Hat, and, finally, the Tree of Life. They had a blast!
As a teenager, whenever I complained to my mother that I only had a few friends -- not the dozens and dozens that the "popular girls" seemed to attract -- she would say, "As long as you have just one good friend, you're lucky." It took only one child out of that yard full of kids to make B___ happy; just one who didn't reject his invitation to play because he behaved oddly and expressed himself differently. One friend made everything okay, and he was lucky to have her.
It's hard to make friends when you're the parent of a child on the Spectrum -- a child who never quite fits in. You often get the same looks and whispered comments from other adults that your kids get from their peers. The stings of those lessen as the years pass, but there are days when you long to talk with someone who understands -- someone who knows first hand how difficult it is for your out-of-sync child to interface with the rest of the world. Someone who knows that having a child with autism breaks your heart and stiffens your back just a bit more each day.
I've been lucky enough to find a great bunch of someones -- the Disney Spectrum Moms! Our trip to Walt Disney World, like B__ and J__'s imaginary one, was a ton of fun and it brought us closer together as friends. We have our own group on Facebook and it's been a wonderful way to get support and advice from other moms who know exactly what the others are going through, whether it's an IEP meeting, behavior concerns, sibling issues, or whatever. Sometimes it's just a great place to visit when we're feeling down -- or when we want help planning our next trip to Walt Disney World! This may be the world's first Autism - Disney Support Group, and I'm glad to be a part of it.
To the rest of The Moms: you've always got a friend in me!
Amy, Julie, Anne Marie, Tracy, Me, Heidi, and Jessica: The Spectrum Moms share a little pixie dust at Epcot
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