Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A track star, not a social butterfly

I was pulling into the parking lot of the high school (which is next to the middle school and where the track is located) to pick up Nick promptly at 4:30 from track. The significant element to this story is promptly at the time that I was supposed to be there—and not one minute earlier. I have been in the habit of getting to the track at 4:00 to watch him run and compete with his classmates, but I had decided: not today.
It was a bit selfish on my part, but I needed a break from watching him not be like his other classmates. And I know that sounds harsh, but let me explain...

When I watch him it is so clear that he doesn’t socialize with the other kids, and he so easily seems to get lost in the pack. He sort of just hangs out and waits for a kid (selected by the coach) to help him out. A burden to the team? I really don’t know, and I don’t care, beecause he can be there if he wants to be.  And the kids and coaches do support him and seem to like him very much, so if he’s happy, then I’m happy. So as long as he occasionally runs and does not get ignored—because he could so easily be ignored, and break my heart—then all is good enough. Right?

So yesterday I’d decided that I would not watch him and just show up with the parade of other moms or dads driving in to pick up their own track-star teenager (hey, we can dream), while the kids were all waiting with their selected groups of friend, and Nick standing just slightly off to the side in his group of one, but looked just fine, happy enough, and waiting like everyone else: Like a typical 8th grader…and the reason why I came on time!

Ignorance is bliss is what I said to myself as we pulled out of the school and Nick was showing me his track wound (apparently, a little scrape from falling while jumping hurdles), which required a large bandage patch on his elbow. I played with fire and asked him if he had friends at track and he quite candidly said: No.


But it wasn’t a No in a sad or an embarrassed way, as I would have been if asked that question by my mother and said No… which I wouldn’t have said even if it were true. I would have told her that I did, and would have been upset that she even had to ask.

But I’m not autistic. And Nick is. And his autism doesn’t allow his lack of friends to bother him; actually, he seems to prefer it and I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing. He just doesn’t care about making friends and seems to run away from the prospects of a kid coming near him  to chat.

I think it is a combination of shyness and the lack of verbal ability. As a late talker and burdened with the inability to make conversation other than to simply answer one word questions (or nod his head)… he doesn’t like to be placed in a situation to chitchat, no matter where he is. (And yes, he’s had years of social skills classes, but it doesn’t seem to be catching on in the real world—at least not yet.)

When I think of this issue, I think of his very first school psychologist. It was in a different town than we currently live, and he was helping me with Nick in kindergarten to just starting the 1st grade. On the eve of our move and Nick’s last day at that school, we were chatting and I fought back tears while telling him that I was worried that he would never have friends and would be alone in life. And he told me, and I still remember the exact expression and smile on his face, “Oh, not a kid like Nick!” (Meaning that he would be surrounded by friends because he’s such a great boy.)

I wonder if that’s still true.

As it stands today, his friends consist of his 41 year old uncle (my brother, who has ADHD and likes the same shows as he does and can easily be just as silly), and the neighbor's kids, who are 5 and 6, who he finds entertaining to watch and will approach them when they are at our house.

I do have a couple of friends who have kids with ADHD and autism, but even when we get them together, it’s like they’re playing apart. It doesn’t work. They don’t mesh. But it doesn’t seem to bother Nick; instead, it seems to amuse him that they don’t socialize with him—like Nick would prefer not to have to socialize with them—a kind of relief, perhaps, but he seems perfectly content to just watch the kids and be among his own group of one: memberships not allowed.


kristi said...

I sometimes watch TC through the window at daycare and while kids are around him, he is content to play alone. Sometimes it bothers me but mostly I am glad he is happy.

Anonymous said...

E-Niner doesn't have friends, either. And when he tries to interact with kids, it's often very inappropriate.

I took him to an after-school autism program to check it out the other day. There was no child in that program that was at all interested in any other child -- my son included.

It seemed strange, yet oddly comfortable at the same time. Here was a group of kids who didn't need other kids to make them feel good, and they were all okay with it.

It's probably harder to observe than it is to live it. But that's just a guess on my part.

Tabitha said...

Oh my gosh! I couldn't help but cry when I read this. I know just how you feel. It is sooooo painful for me to watch my son standing off to the side while other kids are laughing, playing, talking and being friends. The difference is my son has such a look of longing on his face. I know he wants to be a part of the group but for whatever reason they reject him. Sometimes it is more than I can take.

Shea's Mom said...

Yeah, Shea too. We went to a birthday party last week and I was struck at how on the sidelines Shea was. Yes, it hurts but he didn't seem to care either.

Who is to say? I hate chit-chat too. I would much rather have a real conversation with one person that be part of a pack.

there is room in the world for Nick. Re-read your post. He does have friends; your brother, the neighbor kids. Maybe that is enough for him right now.

Tanya @ TeenAutism said...

Either way is hard for a parent - when the kids are content to not really have friends, or when they want friends but don't know how to connect. And the social skills classes help, but the "difference," as Nigel calls it, is still there.

Holly Nappi Collins said...

Thanks everyone. From reading all your comments, I wonder if Nick is happy just being one or if he knows that he is different so he shies away from his same age peers. It's interesting.

Tabitha, the look of longing on your son's face part broke my heart, thank you for sharing that.

Miz Kizzle said...

I equate the lack of friends thing to the way my eldest son was about most team sports. He really didn't like softball or soccer and I was secretly glad because I didn't like sports either when I was growing up and I dreaded having to sit around at Little League with all the other moms, trying to act interested.
I suppose if I was really into sports I would have been devastated that my son didn't care for them. I would have felt like his life was going to be empty without sports to occupy him but that would have been projecting my own preferences onto my son.
I think the same holds true for kids with autism and Asperger's; if they don't care about having friends and they prefer either being by themselves or doing parallel play, why is that a problem? It's not like they're mourning the lack of friends. If they really don't care then it doesn't matter, except to our own preconceived notions about what constitutes happiness.
Of course, it's different if a child yearns for friends but doesn't have any.