Buddy Boy has some OT time at school, where he basically plays games with other kids, and he also goes once a week to a private class where a facilitator does much the same with a group of kids. Buddy Boy relates reasonably well with adults, but has never done especially well with other kids.
I've often pondered what were the reasons that Buddy Boy doesn't make friends, as well as the reasons that he is sometimes confrontational in encounters. It's not like he doesn't want friends. He laments at times that he doesn't have friends and isn't invited for sleepovers. From observing him at the park, I can say that he doesn't initiate encounters much with other kids, and doesn't respond much if other kids approach him. When I've tried making suggestions to him at the park, he says he doesn't want to play with the other kids, or that he doesn't want to do what they are doing.
I think that the efforts that the OT at school and the social skills class we take him to outside of school are worthwhile, but I also don't think that they are all of the solution. It's one thing to relate to other kids in highly controlled situations, and it's quite another in spontaneous encounters. So I actively supplement Buddy Boy's social skills education by taking him to parks during the summer, and fast food establishments with play areas all year long.
Paying for a 'Happy Meal' is less expensive than what we pay for each social skills class, and I think it's at least as productive. I talk to Buddy Boy ahead of time, reminding him of some of the rules (sharing, not being aggressive, taking turns) and then try to hang back somewhat and see what happens. If I sense a need I'll intervene, but mostly try to let him figure things out on his own. Buddy Boy, of course, thinks that it's all his idea to go to these places, as he's eating out and getting to go play. Which is just fine with me.
This last weekend we went to one of several fast food establishments that has a play area. It's one of my favorites because it also has free wi-fi, so I can catch up on postings on the Autism Hub while I keep an eye on the kids.
Most of the time went fairly well. There was a fairly good size group of kids there, and both Buddy Boy and Sweet Pea seemed to be getting along all right, though most of their play was of the 'parallel play' variety. I don't mind this, as there are always plenty of opportunities when there are several kids around for negotiations between different kids (who gets a turn on the video game next, who's turn is it now on the slide, etc.).
I was just getting ready to have the kids get their shoes back on and get ready to leave when I saw a female adult on the far side of the play area talking to Buddy Boy. I quickly sauntered over to see what was up. You know the walk-not wanting to run over and make a scene, but knowing that something isn't right and wanting to get over there and fix it.
As I approached, I saw a girl of about 4 years old next to the woman crying. Uh oh. The woman informs me that Buddy Boy (who was almost twice the little girl's size) had called the girl a bad name, and had stomped on her foot. I apologized to the woman, asked if her daughter was all right, and proceeded to tell Buddy Boy that he had just forfeited the 'toy' that came in his Happy Meal. This of course started him crying, which in one way made the situation worse, but in another helped us out. The mom started feeling sorry for Buddy Boy, telling me he was trying to protect his sister (Sweet Pea) and that her daughter was all right. I apologized again, quickly got the kids together, and made a hasty retreat out the door. I purposely didn't use the "He's autistic" excuse because I didn't want to further the falsehood that all autistics are violent, and I also didn't want Buddy Boy to get the idea that being autistic was an excuse for bad behavior.
In piecing the incident together with the kids in the car, Sweet Pea indeed had asked Buddy Boy to protect her (why Sweet Pea needed protection from a kid that was a bit smaller than her was unclear). Buddy Boy hasn't had problems with physical aggression at school this year, but often gets reprimanded at home for aggressive actions with us and Sweet Pea. I figure that this girl was similar enough to Sweet Pea's size that he naturally fell into his habitual way of dealing with conflict with Sweet Pea.
I guess we won't be going back to this establishment for a month or two. Luckily I have a few others that are in our rotation.
Even though moments like these are uncomfortable and a bit rocky, I think that necessary lessons are learned in such environments, and without the give and take of free play the lessons put forth in formal social skills classes never have a chance of being generalized.
Oh, and the bad name he had called the girl? 'Stupid white girl'. The mom had obviously processed this as a racial put down by Buddy Boy. While I'm sure that the 'stupid' part was a put down by him, I know that for him the 'white girl' part was just a descriptor, as he didn't know her name. I didn't stop to explain this to the mom, as I was happy to just make a quick exit.
Me- Joe, husband of a great wife, and dad to two great kids, who were both adopted at birth.
Liz- My ever understanding wife, who manages to wear many hats (mom, advocate, therapist, teacher) for our kids.
Buddy Boy- Born in 2000. Funny, intelligent, inventive, and autistic. Loves machines.
Sweet Pea- Born in 2002. Typical little sister. Competitive, outgoing, and smart. Loves anything pink.