Posts Tagged ‘friend’
One of the great things about international schools (and the reason I push so hard for them to admit Pudding), is that every kid there knows what it is like to be different. Sometimes we have had excellent teachers who worked hard to include Pudding. Sometimes, the kids themselves have stepped up. The last year here has been challenging in a number of ways, but one thing I never had to worry about was other students not accepting Pudding.
We don’t have any explicit social skills teaching here, for better or for worse, but Pudding does have an excellent aide to help her navigate the social world at school. Though her methods for interacting are sometimes perceived as unusual, Pudding has always been socially motivated. And where she has a will, she will always find a way.
Soon she had a close set of girls in her class who became friends. In class they would sit around her. At concerts, sports days, and assemblies they would support her, in a non-intrusive and accepting away. They found her level and they met her there. Her friend Ana* was a natural at this, perhaps having observed her mother, an occupational therapist who had previously worked with children on the autism spectrum.
Last year Pudding wasn’t allowed to participate in Spanish classes, which was a great source of frustration for us all. When I would collect her after lunch, she was often visibly (and audibly) distressed at having to leave her friends. One day her friend Sofia* drew her a picture of the two of them to let her know she was missed too. And so began a correspondence between the two, that continues to this day.
On days that Pudding had a hard time leaving, she now began sending notes to the kids going to Spanish lessons. And here is where things get really special- they sent them back. Concrete reminders that she was accepted and missed. She belonged. I would often find caring notes and pictures from kids in her grade I had never met before. Her ability to connect with children even beyond her close set of classmates.
Sometimes the acceptance took a while longer, but resistance is futile. Pudding took a shine to Cho*, a boy in her class last year, and he was pretty intimidated by the strength of her not-so-subtle affections. Over the course of the year, he went from avoiding her to becoming a good friend.
One of the bad things about international schools, is that most children who attend them do so on a temporary basis, like us. So recently we had to say goodbye to Ana and Cho. It feels no exaggeration to write that Pudding was heartbroken. Pudding worked through her feelings by sending notes.
In the meantime, Pudding’s friendship with Sofia continued. The two progressed from sending notes and pictures to small gifts and tokens. At least once a week, Pudding would come home from school with a gift bag from Sofia, and she would find or make items for Sofia in return. In time we have managed a successful play date, and both Sofia and Pudding are looking forward to the next one.
But she still misses her friends who have moved on. When I mentioned that another mother was going to visit Ana and her family her native country, Pudding knew exactly what to do- she would send gifts to go with her. She carefully selected items, wrapped them in paper she decorated herself, and sent them to Ana. I just heard today that Ana was delighted to receive her present. She was sad that her friends in Argentina had forgotten her, and Pudding’s gift was a concrete reminder that she is loved and missed.
The school has allowed her to attend Spanish lessons now, and she keeps finding other ways to connect with new friends. Her ways aren’t always conventional, but her sentiment is sincere and unmistakeable. Every effort is a gift.
*Not their real names. Neither is Pudding, in case you didn’t know!
When Pudding was first diagnosed, many of our friends asked us what they could do to help, and we were completely at a loss to suggest anything. We didn’t have a good enough grasp ourselves on all the issues surrounding an autism spectrum disorder. Also, to be perfectly candid, I went through a phase where only I could do anything regarding Pudding. But we did need help, in many ways. And we were lucky that our friends found ways to assist us. Two years on I can identify some of those ways we did, and still do need help.
Here is what our friends did for us.
Waited for us to talk
Keep calling or emailing us. Even when we don’t reply. Especially if we don’t reply. Right after the diagnosis I was too frantic and preoccupied to keep in touch properly. I’m still grateful for Facebook to let me reach a number of people at the same time. Remember that a lack of response probably has little to do with you, and a lot to do with other demands on the parent’s time.
Try to gauge if and when your friend is ready to talk. I’ve described the first few months post-diagnosis as losing my voice. It took some time to accept the different route our life was going to take, and I wasn’t ready to discuss that immediately. Don’t be hurt or upset if your friend doesn’t immediately turn to you for support. My friends were patient enough to wait, and I opened up when I was ready.
We have struggled from the beginning to find a babysitter who would be mature and responsible enough to take care of our kids. To make matters worse, they both have extreme separation anxiety. A couple of our friends have come over to sit with the kids once we got them to sleep so that we could sneak out for a date. They’ve arrived early so that if the kids did wake up, they’d feel more at ease knowing who was in the house with them. Because our kids already knew them, we felt comfortable leaving. Parenting special needs children often means that couples don’t get time to themselves, which leads to even more stress. We can’t thank our friends enough for the times they’ve done this for us.
Bringing a date to us
When Spectrummy Daddy was in Afghanistan, Pudding was already on edge and leaving her at that time was out of the question. One Saturday night, a couple of friends came over with take out and dessert to take my mind off things. I’m sure they had better things to do on a Saturday night, but I’ll never forget their kindness. If you have friends who just can’t get out- go to them!
Keep inviting us
I’ve lost track of how many girls’ nights out I’ve missed. But once in a while, if a relative is visiting, I manage to get out and catch up. Those times are a tonic.
Our friends have also continued to ask us to things as a family. We’re lucky in that Pudding still enjoys parties, so we have been able to attend for the most part. Our friends have also been very generous about providing allergy-safe foods and activities that are suitable for my kids. A big point here is that they aren’t afraid to ask about what our kids do and don’t like, and I’m not reluctant to make an exit if it becomes too overwhelming.
Pudding is difficult to engage, particularly in social or chaotic environments. I’m always grateful for the friends who keep trying with her.
Our kids need to spend time with typically-developing peers, and many are in self-contained classrooms, particularly when they are very young. Our friends who had a child close to Pudding’s age have been great about encouraging play between them when our schedules permit getting together. Pudding learns things from play dates that I could never teach her as an adult, nor would she ever learn spending all her time with other kids on the spectrum.
Learn about our kids
I’ve lost track of the number of times a friend has sent me a link to an article about autism, or even a photograph of the White House fountain. Several of our friends read my blog, and get to learn a little more about the girl who only seems to talk in repetitive sentences when they’re around. You needn’t write a blog, but take the time to describe what makes your child tick, and what leads to overload. It took me a few months to become open to talking about Pudding and autism to our friends, but I have no regrets that I did.
Bought from our Wish List
Almost every time we speak to a teacher, therapist, or fellow parent, we learn about some new thing that our kid needs. Therapy equipment is expensive, and our kids are still kids too. They like toys, a lot. Because Pudding likes extra stimulation, we use a lot of new things to keep her interested and engaged. Friends have bought things like the sit ‘n’ spin and bead toys for sensory input for birthdays and Christmas. They’ve also bought things I wouldn’t have thought of that have been very beneficial, but more importantly- fun. Our friends and family have made sure that the kids toys aren’t all about learning, but princesses and trains too. The only downside? I never get a chance to write all my overdue thank you cards.
Do it from a distance
Admittedly friendships are harder to maintain from a distance. But special needs parenting can be isolating, and any way you find to show a friend you are will mean more than we can express. My friends have sent packages of chocolate and little gifts to show they still think of me. Even a postcard or letter lets your friend know you care, though you are miles apart. That way we still feel like we’re part of a community. Facebook, Twittter and Skype are great ways to keep in touch.
More ways to help
If you are able to do so, come with us to important meetings and appointments. Even after a few IEP meetings, Spectrummy Daddy was unable to leave work, and I was intimidated by the number of people in the room for Cubby’s IEP eligibility meeting. Even if you don’t know anything about what is being discussed, your presence would be a great source of support. Alternatively, taking care of the child or sibling would mean one less worry for the parents. If you can spare a couple of hours, it would make a huge difference to the stress of the day.
Remember the siblings. Often we have to prioritize the child with the most demands, and the other one gets overlooked and forgotten. Be sure to focus on the sibling so that they don’t learn that the only way to get attention is by imitating the behaviors of their brother or sister.
Many kids on the spectrum have problems with food and dining out. Some are very sensitive to textures and smells, meaning that only a few foods are tolerable for them. Many children can’t handle the noise and activity of restaurants and food courts. Still others are only comfortable in very familiar environments. And then there are those with food allergies or intolerances who need to eat a very restricted diet. If you are the parent dealing with the food issues, I promise that it soon gets unbearable. If the family are willing and able to get to a specific place to eat, consider taking them out for a meal, or buying them a gift certificate for a meal there. If not, find out about their list of okay foods, and prepare a meal. Even one meal less to worry about would be a godsend, and you might even develop a taste for extreme cooking. Not that I have.
That was long! Please let me know in the comments any ways your friends have helped you…or ways you’d like them to help.
Friday was Pudding’s school field trip to the pumpkin patch. For those who aren’t familiar, a pumpkin patch is where a farm dedicates itself to Halloween and becomes a huge playground with hay rides (being pulled on a tractor), corn mazes, pony rides etc. For me, a big way of alleviating homesickness is by indulging in experiences that are unique to the place I’m living in. We went to one last year, and she had a great time. It was sensory heaven for my little seeker, and she got to ride a pony for the first time. Back then we were still learning a lot about her needs and the way she reacted to certain experiences, so it was nice to put a tick in the “likes pumpkin patches” box.
Sadly, the field trip went less well. Right before we set off, Cubby fell down the steps outside our house and cut his face. We arrived before the school bus got there, and she skipped about in delight from attraction to attraction. Of course, Cubby wanted to do the same, and without a second adult, it became a not-so-fun game of kid-herding. We had the first meltdown when she didn’t want to leave something to find her classmates. I think the real problem was that she was perplexed by the mix of people from school and home. As soon as she saw the aides, she hid behind me and refused to speak. Her teacher took her away, spent some time calming her down, and then had one-on-one time with her. Unfortunately, this was a small pumpkin patch, so when I took Cubby to see the animals, she saw us and got upset all over again. We joined back up, but she continued to be miserable unless left to do her own thing. Her own thing was to wander to the exit, so that became the end of doing her own thing for that day.
Lesson learned- I won’t attend any more field trips for the time being. She would have had a much better time without me there, much as I don’t like to admit it. I really don’t like to admit it.
I did keep expectations low in the afternoon. We had a play date with her friend E., and hearing that the Disney Store was having a Halloween dress rehearsal, we decided to let the girls dress up in their princess dresses. I wasn’t sure what to expect, so really I should have anticipated an overwhelming and unstructured frenzy of sensory overload. Pudding couldn’t do any of the games, and kept pulling out of the throng of kids to touch all the shiny things that Disney has to offer a princess-obsessed girl. I think we can safely say we won’t be trying that again, although I did get the phone number to see if they’d consider doing a sensory-friendly or special needs event some time.
I had great expectations for Friday, and they weren’t met, but I’m okay with that. There are some things she just isn’t ready for yet, but I wouldn’t have known that without trying. I continue to set my expectations higher for tomorrow than yesterday. If we don’t get there today, we adapt, we accommodate, but we keep trying. One day it will happen. Something else happened in between these two events on Friday which reminded me that Pudding has a confidence in herself that I can only aspire to, and whatever she expects for herself, she’ll get.
I’d tell you about it now, but I’d rather leave you with great expectations for tomorrow.