Hi! I’m a 12-and-a-half-year-old guy from California who now lives in Pennsylvania. I love Nintenedo 3DS and Wii. I got a WiiU for Chanukah and it’s pretty cool. My favorite games are SuperMario Bros., MarioCart, and Just Dance 4. On the computer, I really love Minecraft. I want to design video games for Nintendo when I grow up. My favorite book is “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing” by Judy Blume. And I really like Legos too. But I don’t like sports. And I don’t even like to go outside very much. I hate spiders and I REALLY hate bees. I get along really well with younger kids and adults.. If this is like you, maybe we could have a hang-out.
If only it was that easy to find a friend for our son.
Ben was diagnosed with Asperger’s at the end of Kindergarten. One of the most painful aspects of parenting a child who has autism is knowing that your child doesn’t have friends. Not a weekend passes without hearing Ben cry that he has no one to hang out with. His loneliness is exacerbated by his siblings’ playdates with their friends. It is heartbreaking.
Ben had very few playdates as a young child. Most of them were, with hindsight, opportunities for me to hang out with moms whose company I enjoyed. Ben wasn’t a very fun playmate. His style of play had more in common with much younger children rather than with his peers. He would be completely engrossed in his toys, but rarely displayed any interest in what the other kid was doing. The fact that we rarely arranged for playdates was brushed aside as an unfortunate reality owing to my very busy schedule as a congregational rabbi. It wasn’t until Ben’s sister, Lilly, came along that we realized it had less to do with schedules and more to do with Ben.
It isn’t as though we don’t try to encourage relationships with kids Ben knows from school, camp, and religious school. We do. In fact, I very happily made a four-hour roundtrip so that Ben could hang out with some of his camp buddies – kids he met while attending a Jewish camp for kids with learning disabilities and social disorders. But that was a once-in-a-while thing and cannot make up for the fact that for much of the time Ben remains alone.
Even after six and a half years of social skills coaching, Ben, who has made incredible progress, still struggles with interpersonal exchanges. He lacks perspective and cannot fathom why people do not find it interesting to watch him play video games. This rules out successful hang outs with most other kids. My husband recently remarked that he doesn’t think we are doing enough to find him a friend. To which I retorted, “it’s not like I can just place an ad in the personals, you know.”
So where to look, we parents of the socially-challenged? Anywhere and everywhere. Enlist the help of your child’s resource specialist at school. Ask if there is another student with similar interests, capabilities, temperaments who might make for a good buddy. Check with any of your child’s specialists (occupational therapist, behavioralist, developmental pediatrician, etc.) if they know of any other similar-aged kids who might be a good match. Scour your area for a support group and attend a meeting. Talking about this and other challenges is a healthy thing. Perhaps one of the parents there has a child who shares the same passion as your child and is in need of a friend. And who knows – with enough perseverance, you might just make the perfect match.
Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr is a CLAL Rabbis Without Borders Fellow whose work appears regularly on the Rabbis Without Borders blog and Kveller.com as well as a variety of other online sites. Writing at This Messy Life (www.rebeccaeinsteinschorr.com), Rebecca finds meaning in the sacred and not-yet-sacred intersections of daily life. Follow her on Twitter @rebeccaschorr.