Last week I subbed as a paraprofessional at the Roc’s elementary school again. Part of my job that day was recess duty. I was apprehensive about being out there during the 1st grade recess time, as the Roc didn’t know I was going to be there.
When I saw him, I could see anxiety written all over his face. He started to climb the stairs, following a little boy in his class, I heard him ask “do you want to play with me?” and when that little boy started chasing some other kids the Roc turned to me with tears in his eyes.
“I want to play with N, but he doesn’t want to play with me. No one wants to play with me. It’s more fun to play with a friend then by myself.”
My chest constricted as I looked at his face. I was responsible for watching the whole playground, I couldn’t spend all my time with my own child, even if that was what I wanted. I flashed back to the night he told me he didn’t have any friends and I felt so sad. I looked around the playground, but it is hard to pick out the few kids I know in his grade out of 120 kids bundled up in winter gear. I saw the special ed recess para over by the bin of balls and told the Roc to go to her and get a ball, maybe he could practice his basketball skills. I watched him with my heart in my throat and kept an eye on the kids trying to sneak into the playground without snow pants and boots. A few minutes later the Roc was back, again with tears in his eyes. He spent the last few minutes of recess sitting on a bench under the big slide, his eyes and nose red from the tears he was holding back. As the whistle blew and the children all ran to line up, my own eyes were filled with tears behind my sunglasses. It is hard to see your child without a friend and desperately wanting that connection, painful to watch him be so upset at school, gut wrenching to know he is going to sit in the same spot in the cafeteria, feeling alone the whole time.
But I also knew that I was lucky. I saw without a doubt an area that needs to be tweaked in the Roc’s day and skills that I need to do more to teach him at home. There is no denying that what he told me that night is true, he wants a friend and is having a very hard time connecting on the playground. The Roc participates in a social skills group and a friendship group at school, and his special ed teacher is absolutely wonderful. She has done little activities in her room and had the Roc invite a classmate, and there is time everyday that he plays with two children in her room. I also knew that I needed to bring the conversation I had with the Roc the other night, and what I just witnessed on the playground to his teachers attention. We need to come up with more strategies to help him start to build the skills needed to be a friend. The desire is there, now he just needs the tools.
There was a 10 minute break before the next grade came out for recess so I went to see if the Roc’s special ed teacher was in her room, my eyes were burning with tears as I entered and told her about the conversation I had with the Roc, and what had just happened on the playground. She immediately told me about the things he is doing right when he interacts with the small group in her room, and the things that are tripping him up outside at recess–the biggest being his refusal to do what someone else wants to do. He has an idea of what he wants to play and how he wants to play it when he gets outside, and when the child he asks to play doesn’t want to do exactly what he wants to do, he walks away. I’ve seen him do this, so I know this rigidity is an issue. She showed me a book she had started reading with him and told me I could take a copy home at the end of the day. She said she would sit down with the special ed recess para and they would try to figure out some good matches to hook the Roc up with on the playground.
For the rest of the day, in the back of my mind, I thought about the Roc. I knew it was time for me to get more involved, time to reach out and arrange play dates with my friends kids, with the other parents I know with children on the spectrum, and to try to connect with some of the children he does know at school. Those are all things that I can do and need to do for him to develop the social skills he needs to participate in life the way he obviously wants to. I talked to GC later that evening and told him we needed to get more involved in helping the Roc navigate and learn social skills. He needs preteaching and lots of practice, and it is up to us to make some connections for him outside of school.
A few days later at a support group meeting for parents of children on the spectrum I brought up the painful conversation I had with the Roc and what I had witnessed on the playground on Monday. I had to stop and look up at the ceiling, willing myself not to cry, while recounting watching him hold back sobs of sadness. There were some suggestions and lots of empathy as some have children dealing with the exact same issues. But it was the quick conversation I had with another mom at the end of the evening that gave me hope. She asked if we could set up a play date for our boys, her’s needing some time to practice social skills too. I was flooded with gratitude and told her we would love to have them over. We are setting up a play date for this week after school. Then another mom from the group emailed me and told me how she was thinking about what I said at the meeting and asked if the Roc liked to jump as she had a couple passes for a jumping place in a town nearby. I immediately emailed her back and said we would love to join them. I also contacted one of my friends who lives a couple miles away and has two young boys to see if they would want to get the boys together soon, and they said yes.
I was heart broken that night when he cried and told me he didn’t have any friends. I dropped down into a grief I haven’t felt in a long time.
But he is different, so different from the little boy he used to be. The little boy who needed a bubble of personal space around him, who literally pushed other children away from him. Who would freak out and scream when we would go to a new house for a play date. The little boy who didn’t understand how to play with toys, and would grab things away from other children. The little boy who clung to my side while all the other children ran through the house, making up games, laughing and squealing. So different.
Now he wants to be a part of everything he shunned when he was younger.
He wants a friend.
Read that again, because it’s HUGE.
He wants a friend.
He just needs the tools and lots of practice.
That I can provide.
From grief to hope.
The cycle continues.