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#20: Friends

In a few short months E will start kindergarten. Like every parent whose first child is about to start school, I’m struggling with fears over how he will do academically, whether he will adapt well to a new daily routine, and if he will be able to make friends.


Friends. Such a simple word for life-changing relationships. Relationships that I’m desperate for him to have as he grows, and that I’m terrified he won’t.


Will he be able to develop the social skills necessary to have meaningful communication and interaction with others? To build relationships based on shared values, interests, and authentic love for other people? I’ve had more breakdowns than I care to count over this.


We’ve been working so hard to build those skills these last few months – skills like being able to initiate communication, share possessions, listen to others, accept other’s mistakes, offer to help, and be positive and kind.


They are the skills that are the building blocks of what, to me, is the most important purpose of life: relationship. Relationship with others, and with God.


All we do flows from relationship. Where we invest our time, our energies, our resources – it is determined by our desire for real relationship, whether we recognize that consciously or not. Building a marriage, a family, a personal walk of faith, a career, serving others through volunteerism or mentoring: at the core it is all about relationship.


Somewhere in E’s DNA is that desire. It’s innate in all of us. A baby’s cry to be held is evidence of that.


Yet most days he seems lost in his own world, oblivious to building relationships beyond those with his ever-present blue blankie and his stuffed animals (who he has recently begun “potty-training” while we continue to try to get him fully potty-trained).


“I have to find a way to push his boundaries,” I think, “to expand his world socially. I can’t let him live in a world of isolation that I’ve enabled under the guise of protecting him.”


Wow. There it is. That’s exactly what I’ve been doing. Under the pretense of “protecting” him I’ve been enabling an isolated existence for him, and for me. I’ve been telling myself that I’ve had to let my own friends down in order to not let my kids down – and in part, that is true – but it’s also an excuse.


I just don’t want to answer the questions. To deal with the stares. The lack of understanding. The apologies and explanations I’ll have to provide for E’s behaviors or meltdowns.


But it has to stop. I’m not doing him any favors. Isolating him is actually counter-productive, I realize. How will he learn to build friendships if I never give him the opportunity? How will our friends gain a true understanding of autism if I never expose them to it?


“Okay, Susan, time for a new plan,” I tell myself out loud. “This is going to be hard. It’s going to be exhausting. It’s going to be uncomfortable. But it is your job. And it will be worth it.”


I pick up the phone and call a friend who has been asking to do a play date for several months. She sounds genuinely thrilled to hear from me, and agrees to a play date for the kids at our house this weekend. (Yes, at our house. Baby steps.)


As I hang up the phone, I find myself smiling. This will be good. He needs this, and I need this.


If I want him to have meaningful, successful friendships, then I can’t live in isolation anymore. I can’t let my own friendships break down and then expect him to build healthy ones. He needs to see ME have good friendships, to model for him what it looks like.


I need to live the life that I want him to imitate. It’s that simple.


It’s time to turn my breakdowns into a breakthrough.

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