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I Used to Be Upset My Son Doesn’t Have ‘Friends.’ Here’s Why I’m Not Anymore.

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black and white photo of mom in sunglasses and her son. She has her head on her son's shoulder.

My son, Ethan, doesn’t have “friends” like you or I might, and this used to upset me — but not so much anymore. This took a long time for me to come to terms with. You see, I wanted friends for Ethan, but I wasn’t sure if Ethan really cared.

Ethan is a friendly little boy. He loves nothing more than grabbing, hugging and kissing people, and just as quickly he can punch, cry, kick and bite the same people he loved on a few moments ago. These behaviors led me to become a “helicopter” mom. Yes, I’m open and proud to be that mom!

Ethan doesn’t always maintain personal space, which makes making friends with his peers difficult for all involved. Ethan gets so excited that he will shove, kick, bite and laugh due to the sensory overload of just being around people. He is happiest around people; he is the most hyped-up, overexcited kid when he’s around people, especially people his own age. Ethan stands at under four feet tall. His level of understanding is that of an 18-month-old. He is 13 but goes straight to 4- to 5-year-olds because he believes they are his peers. Every child is approachable to Ethan, which has helped me perfect my “helicopter” mom moves!

Ethan has attended two schools for children with special needs. In his first school, he made no friends. His current school is a better fit, but still no friends (as such). He has a few classmates who I am pretty sure get along with him, as I have not had many calls since he started this school regarding his behavior toward his classmates.

Ethan has no friends who call for him. Ethan has never had a friend over for a playdate, nor has Ethan gone to someone else’s house for a playdate. And that’s OK.

Ethan does, however, have a family support worker who’s been his buddy for nearly five years now. They go out once a week together for two or three hours and do whatever Ethan happens to be interested in for that week. It is a form of respite for us. Ethan loves him, and he adores him right back. It is a friendship, a very important one to all involved. He has coffee with me every week and has become a part of our little family.

Ethan also has a home nurse. We have only known her for a year, but to be honest, it feels like she has always been part of our family. Ethan absolutely loves her. She finds it hard to get her work done as he insists on sitting on her lap, kissing and hugging her. She has yet to refuse Ethan anything he asks of her. She and Ethan have a wonderful friendship.

One of my best friends lives near me and spends a great deal of time in our home. She is an amazing friend to me and my family — all three boys and my husband. Ethan adores her. She is able to read him and engage with him; she is his friend.

Ethan has two younger brothers who both play, engage and have fun with Ethan when Ethan initiates it. They also know when Ethan is close to a meltdown or a sensory overload. They know when to back away and leave Ethan to regulate himself, which he does rather well.

Ethan doesn’t have friends like you or I might, but that’s OK. Ethan has plenty of people who genuinely love him, understand him and enjoy seeing him. He has people in respite who enjoy him, people at school who laugh with him and he has us.

He will always have us.

A version of this post originally appeared on Autism Awareness.

Originally published: February 8, 2016
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