Friday, March 10, 2000

You've got a friend in me

My son has no friends.

For a long time, this didn't bother him much. He was a self-contained little unit, perfectly happy to line up cars in his room for hours, all by himself. If kids were uncomfortable with him--because he stands to close, because he touches them or hugs them or kisses them according to his impulses, because his play is too inflexible--he didn't seem to notice. His large gallery of pretend friends liked him just fine.

But now, at almost 7, he's starting to notice. When his sister has friends over, he wonders where his friends are. I have to keep him from jumping all over her friends, but playing with Mom is not as fun when there are other kids in the house. He's in a special-ed class this year with older kids, and though at various times they find him funny, weird, or icky, he's mostly just a baby. Not much friend potential there.

I've tried finding an after-school activity for him, in the hope of finding a peer group, but his overactivity, heedlessness of adult wishes, and impulsivity make it hard for him to get with any programs. Already this year, we've been drummed out of a mother-and-child music class because he was trampling all the younger children in his wake. He's been asked to leave gym and swimming in the past because he just won't follow the leader. Many hyper kids seem to do well with karate, but I can conceive of no way that this boy will stand in a line and follow directions. He'd probably wander too close to someone else and get kicked in the head.

With conventional social activities out of the running, I've recently been trying to find him a group of kids with problems like his. His neurologist recommended a social-skills program, and goodness knows that social skills are something he could use. I talked to the child psychologist in charge, and it sounded like a good possibility: They work primarily with children on the autistic spectrum, and since my boy has autistic behaviors in his large grab-bag of problems, it seemed he might fit in.

But today, we went to the evaluation. It was at the house of a speech therapist who would be assessing him while the psychologist talked to me. The house had many lovely knickknacks. The house had a cat. The house had a lady waiting with her baby for her son to come out of speech therapy. The house had a psychologist who was willing to share his keys. My son was in his element, chatting up grown-ups, touching every breakable thing in sight, petting the baby, scaring the cat. He was talking, moving, bouncing, zooming, behaving as he always does in an unfamiliar place full of delightful stimulations. The speech therapist couldn't get him to do any of her little tests, and determined that his language skills were insufficient for admission to the program, and that he would run her ragged trying to constantly redirect him anyway.

Part of me is sad that even among special-needs kids, he doesn't fit. Part of me blames the therapist for not having sufficient tricks up her sleeve to get his attention; his wonderful school speech therapist can get him to pay attention for much longer than even I can. And part of me wonders at the wisdom of evaluating distractible children in such a distracting environment. It doesn't matter, though--another door slams.

My husband is unconcerned by all this. He's a loner, and thinks friends are somewhat overrated. Our son is not actively miserable, and with time and maturity he may become more appealing friend material to others. And there are signs of progress at school: Today his teacher told me that he has been asking another boy in class to play store with him, and they have been happily interacting. So maybe he'll find a way to make it without mom's help.

Until then, I'll just have to be his best friend myself.

1 comment:

Terri Mauro said...

Funny reading this now, twelve years later, when my son is the one with friends and my daughter is the one wondering where hers are. His social life picked up considerably once he got on to the right self-contained track, and those friends have stuck with him even as he's moved on to inclusion.