Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Friendless with Asperger's?

It's been a rough road, and although MJ is a pretty good kid, he hardly has any friends. Sure, he's got so called "friends" who he follows around or tries to include himself in their already established activities. When he goes to school the kids say hi and some may even talk to him. Some of these "friends" are pretty nice and let him tag along after them, but really, he doesn't have any close relationships with anyone. The kids that let him tag along or talk to him are more just humoring him until someone they would rather play with comes along.
Yeah, this sounds harsh. It may sound like I don't have much confidence in my son to have friends, but it is a reality. He just doesn't.

And why is that? What is wrong with him? I mean, really, he's a decent kid. He's pretty nice. He's smart, imaginative, and funny. He's interested in those Pokemon cards and Star Wars and such like the other kids. Yeah, maybe he hates all sports and would rather dance, but not all kids have to be into sports anyway. So what is it? Why don't the other kids want to play with my kid?

Often as I have picked him up from school he comes out with his head down and looking like school just sucked the life out of him. He says he is lonely and bored and he has no one to play with at recess. I ask him why and what are the other kids doing, and he tell me the same response, "I don't want to do what they're doing."

That's it, isn't it? With his Asperger's he is usually only interested in what he wants to be interested in and could care less about other things. If the kids don't want to do what he wants then he doesn't want to play with them. On occasion he actually can find kids that are interested in the same things, but then they don't want to play the exact way he wants and it is over.

I've observed this early on in his life. When he was 2 years old to 3 I tried to play action figures with him. I thought I was a good mom sitting down playing star trek guys or Buzz Lightyear, or whatever the action figure was at the time. The problem arose that he didn't want to play with me. It's not exactly that he didn't want to play with me, but he didn't want me to have any input in the playing. For example, he wanted his action figure to go on some trip and fight the other action figure, then fly through space and land on the moon (and that was fine), but when I thought my action figure could talk or act in response to his guy it wasn't good enough. He would become angry that I wasn't doing exactly what he wanted my guy to be doing. And how did I know what I was supposed to be doing? It was as if there was some script he was following and I was missing my cues and lines. I remember I pretty much gave up playing like that with him long ago. Everything he plays is very imaginative, but it's all scripted and planned out to how exactly he wants it or sees it in his mind unfolding.

So, sure, other kids might want to play with him for a time, but when they can't have much input on anything, they get pretty annoyed, or maybe bored. At home MJ has had it easy with younger siblings to order around telling them exactly what they will do next, but at school kids don't want to be directed as much.

Yeah, maybe he can just play games or that Pokemon card thing he does. This has worked at times. I've organized play dates with other kids to come to our house and for a while they play happily battleship or air hockey, but then he brings out his Pokemon cards. Sure, they may be interested in them, but the way he begins obsessing on every single rule, category and whatever about them, the other child gets really bored and doesn't want to play anymore. If it's not Pokemon cards, then he'll want to start talking about rocks, minerals, bugs, chemicals, etc. and the poor kid who just wants to blow up action figures begins thinking what is wrong with this kid? I've had many a playdate where I am instigating all of the activities following them around just to keep the other kid entertained because they usually end up sitting alone apart from one another playing totally separate things.

So what to do? I want MJ to have friends. I don't want him to be alone. I've talked to my husband about this and he's pretty negative. He says this is just the way it is with Asperger's. It's not that you don't want to have friends, you just don't know how to make friends, what to say, or how to act around them. It's like you are outside this happy bubble of laughing playing kids and you just can't find a way inside no matter what you do it's always wrong.

Well, one thing I could do is enroll MJ in various groups and after school activities that involved other kids. He's in 2 dance classes, cub scouts, and I put him in a summer camp this year. Maybe he wasn't going to have friends exactly, but at least he would be involved with other kids to feel as if he belonged to something.

In the end, we actually took this problem with socialization to a whole new change. After all the work we've done with his school and even finally establishing a 504 Plan, we gave it all up and decided to transfer him out. We made a last minute decision to pull him out of the school he'd been at for the last 3 years and take him back to our neighborhood school. Yes, we had had our problems there, but we had also finally established accommodations for him there. He just had no friends and we needed a change. We hoped for the best and met with the principal to register the day before school started.