When Other Parents Stop Making Play Dates With My Son With Autism
The first time it was a shock. Casual “we’re too busy” replies to invitations, the realization that it had been weeks since we’d seen our friends, and then months. I went over it in my head — had I said something wrong? Were they just really busy? I didn’t want to jump to conclusions, but eventually the conclusion kind of jumped on me, like a rush of cold water. It may be my son. They didn’t want their kid hanging out with my kid. My kid, who hoarded toys and already had the rules for games worked out. My kid, who so desperately wanted to play and just needed time to figure it out, to transition between what he imagined and the reality. It took silence for me to get it, no longer an empty excuse at the end of the line, just silence. But get it I did, and gradually my son stopped asking for his friend, stopped putting aside toys and planning trips to the park.
I cried, for my boy who had experienced isolation at the tender age of 3. For myself, who had previously believed that when people said “It’s OK” they meant it. For the loss of a friendship I had relied on and valued. We were a bit bruised, but we threw ourselves into finding new friends with open hearts.
The second time was rage — white-knuckled rage and carefully composed text messages while we processed what was happening. All the things we wanted and needed desperately to say, and yet couldn’t. The message we never sent is still on the tips of my fingers when I remember the accusations. When you make decisions about whom your children can and can’t play with, other people suffer. We all suffer.
If it happens a third time, then I’ll know what to say: Trust your child; they have chosen to play with my kid for a reason. They likely see something — a spark, a kindred spirit, an appreciation of difference, and they appear to like it. Yes, it can be complicated. But trust your child, let them find the ways to make this friendship work, support it like you would any other, and above all, don’t be scared. Don’t be afraid of talking to us, don’t be afraid of our son.
I believe if you want your children to grow up to be genuine people who accept and embrace diversity in all its forms — then I feel they need these experiences. They need to know how to treat people with disabilities as people; they need to become good at finding the commonalities rather than the differences. This may not be easy, but changing the world rarely is. I’d say give your child the gift of many different friendships with many different people. Let them play, whatever that looks like.
I believe your children need my child. They need his boldness and his humor. They need his excitement about hydraulics and they need to see him racing around outside before he sits down to write. I feel they need him as a valuable member of society, a classmate, and as a friend. He has so much to offer. Your child sees that; trust them and eventually you may see it, too.
Follow this journey on Playing With Fireworks.
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