the anatomy of a play-date

Aiden and Owen had friends over to play today and Aiden's Autism was especially noticeable... and I found that especially tough.
Most of the time Aiden is just Aiden and not "Aiden-the-Autistic-kid" in our family. He is just my son and his "issues" are in the backseat. But today the Autism grabbed hold of my heart and squeezed.

April is Autism awareness month and so I am going to try and explain today a bit more in the interest of education.

Here is how having a friend over to play typically goes for Aiden:

1. The friend arrives and Aiden immediately invades his personal space. He jumps and laughs and goes uncontrollably crazy in his giddiness that a friend has actually arrived at our home to play with him. After all that doesn't happen very often.

Personal space and boundaries are very difficult for Autistic kids to understand.

2. The friend feels overwhelmed and starts to back away. Aiden needs help calming down.

Reading another person's facial expressions  (ex. the facial expression that says "yikes, back away") and understanding the emotions behind them is next to impossible for an Autistic kid.

3.  Aiden realizes he wants to show his friend his room. And yes, this happens with every visit.

Autistic kids tend to be very attached to their "stuff".

4. Owen has joined into the fun (it's his room too) and then Aiden feels compelled to fight for the guest's full attention.

Understanding WHY people are doing things in interpersonal relationships is extremely difficult for an Autistic kid. It is easy for them to misunderstand and get their feelings hurt. 

5. Aiden and his friend play well together until the friend wants to play something else. Then Aiden freaks out. Parent intervention is usually required to help Aiden transition to a new game. Sometimes it works and other times Aiden needs time alone to calm down. The friend will often play with Owen at this point which distresses Aiden even more.

Transitions are incredibly hard and can be very confusing for an Autistic kid.  Understanding another person's point of view is not a skill that comes naturally to them.

6. That cycle repeats as long as the friend is at our home. Aiden doesn't understand why everyone doesn't want to play the same game the same way as he does. He struggles to follow another child's lead. He is easily threatened and is easily upset. He pouts when he doesn't get his own way.  If he does something funny and the friend laughs he continues to do the funny thing over and over again until well after it has ceased to be funny. He generally frustrates the heck out of whoever he is trying to play with.

It can be very hard for an Autistic kid to know the difference between someone laughing WITH you and someone laughing AT you. 

7. Play time is over and it is time for the friend to go home. Aiden bursts into sobbing wailing tears begging the friend not to leave. The friend is generally quite uncomfortable with this bizarre display of affection.

Autistic kids tend to do quite a few things that are not always socially acceptable. They don't always know what is appropriate in social situations. 

So there you have it.  Aiden is emotionally spent by the time the "play date" is over because he has had to work so hard to get along with the other kids.

Some days stuff like this doesn't phase me at all. But some days... like today... watching the way my son interacts with his peers makes me so very sad. I just wish it didn't have to be so hard for him.


This makes me want to cry Tara. You explained this all very well...I worked in the public school system for a few years and it guts me to see kids struggle's heartbreaking. You are a wonderful, aware, pro-active mom. :)
Amanda Daybyday said…
Great post.
Cheryl D. said…
Great summation! You also described my daughter to a tee! It's weird how they're more "autistic" on some days than other days. I wish I know why.
Tree said…
This list is very touching and informative! My cousin's son is PPD-NOS, and my twins are ADHD and ADD, so I can understand your son's frustrations and actions. Praying for many good days in the future!

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This Mom said…
Although it may be difficult, you are doing an incredible service by sharing your experiences. Obviously moms of children on the ASD spectrum can relate, but for the rest of us, it is a lesson that we really need to learn. I am a teacher, preparing to welcome a student just diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome in to my classroom in September, and some of the points you made in this post contain info that the other children in the class really need to know as well -- and so do their parents. Knowledge is power, so keep sharing!
Patricia Ward said…
It makes me so very sad too! Aiden does extremely well at controlling his frustration, considering all he's dealing with. I feel that he is so often misunderstood, and truly doesn't mean to be trying! I admire his strength and courage to persist. He is very strong indeed. Thank you for sharing this, Tara; it's very helpful information. I love you.

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