Trials of an SN MOM: Friends
Birthdays can make you feel like the most popular person or the most forgotten. I think the advent of social media has made this even more prevalent. Watching our neurotypical daughter wade through those types of issues has been eye opening...and, at times, painful. Judging popularity by the number of likes you have is foreign to those of us on the north side of 25 years of age.
Our son does not have a phone, nor does he have unfettered access to screen devices. The concept of texting and emailing are things we are trying to teach him (we have not even tried with Facebook and the rest). I do not think that he quite understands it all. Which leads me to my next thought - does he notice the limited number of social events that involve friends? Does he notice that he has only been invited to two birthday parties since Kindergarten?
Prior to the diagnosis and when our boy was in daycare and preschool, we had a captive audience. The rule was that everyone had to be invited to a party. In addition, the programs were year long - no summer breaks. So it was easy. We attended events and our son had at least fifteen friends at his July birthday celebration. It was great. Then we started Kindergarten.
At the start, Daniel participated in a silo AS (Autistic Support) program in our school district. The program was not in our neighborhood but in a different catchment area...so the SN children came from all across the district - which is very large. The AS program had (at the time) 85 students in grades K-3. They would be loosely gathered by ability and age. So there were classrooms where first grade students may be grouped with second graders. The ASD parent population was very disconnected and there was little effort by the district to connect us. Some of the SN population would participate with the regular ed children during history, science, music and homeroom. I appreciated this part. Eventually we scaled back Daniel's participation in the regular ed classes as there was not enough adaptive learning involved (a topic that deserves its own post). But it was through that interaction that our son received his first birthday invitation from a peer. He was SO excited. We attended. Thanked the parents profusely...and that was that. It would be our first and last invite from a neurotypical peer, unfortunately.
As an SN mom I understand why SN kids rarely have birthday parties. There are few celebratory environments that are sensory friendly. As the host, I feel like it can be a tremendous responsibility, especially when you don't have close relationships with many of the parents. And then there is the fear that no one will show up. An even deeper fear for moms of summer babies. For a time I did not think that our son even noticed. The fear of the unknown is powerful and so are the stereotypes that take over. So the end result is that we offer few invitations and receive few invitations to social activities with peers. The social activities that we do engage in are constructed by us. Daniel spent one play date ignoring his friend...but that is ok. It takes practice for all of us, even more so for those who are not wired to socially engage.
For birthdays we have huge celebrations for Daniel with our families - which has entailed costumes for children and adults. Daniel picks the theme and we run with it. This year our guy turned 10. He remembered his sister's tenth birthday and requested certain things that she had received. So, this year he demonstrated to us that he is very much socially aware and has preferences as well. In addition, our guy has begun to ask questions related to his sister's sleep overs, parties, dances...and as a result he is asking for social opportunities as well. He wants to engage, which is huge. While our boy may ask to do the same thing with the same friend every time (Bowling with "E"), he is at last asking, despite the fact that engaging in the act of being social may be uncomfortable for him. So...that is progress and deserves a Mario ”Wahoo!”