Posts Tagged ‘friendship’
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!
Only Pudding likes Hello Kitty.
We hear that a lot in our house. It is an established fact. A Pudding fact at that- nothing more irrefutable. Going to England meant the kids were going to meet their British cousins for the first time. Pudding has one girl cousin, and Pudding wasn’t going to tolerate any competition. I thought a mutual love of Hello Kitty might bring the girls together. I excitedly told Pudding that her cousin was going to have a Hello Kitty birthday cake the day after they met. I thought she’d love it. But I’d forgotten that only Pudding likes Hello Kitty.
So before meeting her, Puddings cousin was on notice. Not only was she going to have the cake, but a birthday too, of all the rude things! Didn’t she know that Pudding likes birthdays? And then there was Nanny. Was this little usurper going to steal Nanny’s affections too?
This time around, Pudding had immediately bonded with her grandparents. This is the tough part of foreign service life. And the tough thing about autism. For a child struggling with social interaction, limited time with loved ones doesn’t help. We can’t predict how things will be. When we visit family, I feel like I’ve just set off a soggy firework- it might fizzle out to nothing, or it might be explosive, and you don’t really want to be the one to risk trying to fix things when it could go off in your face.
This time with my mum it was like this from the first day…
Which was awesome! But I noted how Pudding jealously eyed her neurotypical three year-old. Because Nanny is her Nanny too. And every time previously, Pudding has only had to share her Nanny with Cubby, which is fine because she has to share everything (but Hello Kitty) with him. But this was new. And new can be hard. And new people? Even harder.
This little cousin already came with her own thoughts and feelings. Pudding hadn’t allowed her to like Hello Kitty, or to have a birthday, or share Nanny. This was hard. Not just for Pudding, but for me too. Well aware that the time we could spend with family was constantly trickling away, I wanted everything to be perfect for everybody concerned. I knew it wasn’t going to be.
Then again, I could see that Pudding’s response was valid and true to who she is. In fact, a perfectly normal feeling. So I let her have it. I stopped trying to force interactions. I allowed her to be jealous. If allowed is the right word- she certainly doesn’t need my permission to feel things. But I acknowledged it. Kids get jealous. Even spectrummy mummies get jealous, we all do.
And just like any of we creatures on this planet fortunate enough to sense the range of emotions that make up the human condition, it abated. Or dissipated. Spent. Probably a whole lot sooner than if I’d tried to facilitate the relationship. And in its place…interest. Fascination in another little girl. Then, before we knew it- affection. Love.
Her enemy turned into a friend. When Pudding’s cousin balked at the idea of riding in a horse-drawn pink princess carriage, Pudding didn’t want to ride without her. When she wore princess slippers,
Pudding squished her way-too-big feet into a matching pair. And whenever they were together, the two held hands, and ran around giggling at each other. Best of friends for their remaining time together. Inevitably, of course, the two were wrenched apart, and we had to feel the pain and loss of separation.
Still, we have memories to last a lifetime full of love, friendship, and family. But they don’t have to last a lifetime, just til next time. It is something over families take for granted, but we know just how precious it is.
When we return she’ll know there are people there who love her through good and bad, just as she is. And if we’re all very lucky, they might even be willing to share their Hello Kitty cake once again.
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.
On Friday evening, I was surprised by a visit from my oldest friend and her boyfriend. I was excited.
My husband had secretly flown them over from England using our air miles. I was, of course, delighted to see them.
Spectrummy Daddy had sent photos of them to Pudding’s teacher to prepare her for the visit. She didn’t handle their arrival too well, but she calmed down after a day or so. Cubby enjoyed having the extra attention. Another friend agreed to babysit on Saturday night, so we actually got to go out. I was happy.
My house was in relative order, for my house, or so I thought until my friend walked in. Only then did I see it through her eyes. The juice-stained carpet, the crayon marks on the walls, the broken furniture, the child locks even on high cupboards, the safety gates, the door locks, the social stories, the therapy equipment everywhere. They don’t have children, so the chaos of our home is the opposite of how they live. I was embarrassed.
Even when I did find a minute to clean, it was futile. Cubby was hell-bent on drawing on the walls, though I swore I’d removed every single crayon from his reach. I was angry.
In contrast, Pudding retreated into herself even more than usual. I was worried.
I stayed up as late as I could every night to chat and catch up with my friends. I was tired.
I still had therapies to drive to, allergy-safe food to cook, and Pudding and Cubby to take care of. I was exhausted.
I was completely unable to act like a hostess in the way I’d have liked to. I’m doing nothing as well as I’d like to right now. I was frustrated.
I wished for things to be different. I felt guilty.
At many points over the course of the long weekend, I thought about how I couldn’t just have a weekend to enjoy the company of friends because of everything else. I wondered why I couldn’t just be happy, just for a weekend. Will a visit from friends always be this hard? I was sad.
I was able to talk to my friend, and tell her in person how I was feeling. I have a friendship of over three decades of being accepted and loved for myself, even if I’m not able to present my best self all the time. I was content.
I dropped them at the airport this afternoon. By tomorrow we’ll be back on our routine, like the visit never happened. Back to our normal.
I wonder how long I’ll be playing hostess to every feeling that has risen to the surface.