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Friend

Posted: 2008-10-01

In March 2008, this parent wrote My Little Professor, a quite extraordinary account of her son, diagnosed with Asperger's. Now she has started Asperger's A Love Story, a blog.




David has never made a friend. When his barber teases him about the staying-up late, movie and popcorn binges of sleepovers he must be going on, I cringe; David demurs. During lunch at school, as the other children jostle their trays to sit next to their friends, David slides his tray out of the way. He may talk at a child sitting next to him, but rarely does he talk with one. On the playground, if children ask him to play, he almost always refuses because, he tells me, the stories in his head interest him more than the games of other kids. "None of the kids read Natural History magazine," he complains, by way of explaining his lack of friends. He tells me he feels like the bluejay reporter in Russel Hoban’s The Mouse and His Child. And once, after a particularly difficult day in school, he dictated the following poem to me, which he entitled "The Feelings of David."



Sometimes I like to be alone

Nobody knows why

I wish I were riding up at night in the sky

But sometimes I don’t like the crowd

And I like to be alone

But nobody knows why

I wish I could fly like a bird in the sky

Sometimes I feel angry

But nobody knows why

Because I’m just David

And my feelings pass by.



Even when he desperately wants to share something with another child, he doesn’t know how. When, in the midst of the school’s carnival fundraiser, we spotted deer in the twilight fringes of the school’s playground, David dashed over to his classmates to share his excitement, regardless of what they were doing and whether they were able or wished to hear him. As David darted from child to child, they responded with looks of incomprehension and annoyance.



Even after repeated entreaties to "show" his words, David avoids meeting people’s eyes, shares little interest in their concerns, and blurts out the kinds of frank assessments guaranteed to provoke resentment. During a classmate’s report on New Jersey, he yawned loudly, declared it boring, and repeatedly asked when it would be over. Talking over the fence with our neighbor’s ten year-old daughter and in earshot of her eight year-old son, he declared that he liked her but not him. "Michael watches too many video games. I hate video games." Rather than the camaraderie of shared frustration, his classroom outbursts provoke ready informants and further marginalization. When David blurted out the "F" word during group math work, he violated a law of social decorum that most second graders knew well to respect. Alarmed and embarrassed, Bob and I sat down with him on the floor of his room to hear his explanation. "It started as a speck, a little pencil dot in my toe and then it went zoom up my blood vessels, and into my arteries, and through my neck, and out my mouth before I knew it â€Â¦ and, and, and I don't know how it happened, but the guard had fallen asleep. The guard fell asleep, Mommy, and out it came."



With the help of the school social worker, we create social stories for him, narratives to help him learn the steps of social interaction. We created "powercards," handmade laminated "how to" cues, as tangible reminders. David’s imaginary friend, Alligator Snapping Turtle, now proffers advice: "How to make a friend. Listen first, then ask a question, then share." We recite with David what some therapists recommend as the SODA mantra—stop, observe, deliberate, act—to help him better judge how to behave.



The unstructured social settings at school—playground, lunch, gym, and afterschool program, however, still unnerve him. Dodgeball provokes the terror and bitter tears of a blitz bombardment. Not only is the coordination needed to dodge and throw too much for him, but the fear of incoming projectiles sends him running to gym corners with his arms shielding his head. After a ball wallops him in the chest, he cries bitterly, less from pain than from frustration and perceived betrayal. When he finally gets home, he demands time alone to read. Even as Theo cries out in disappointment, David rushes to his bedroom, locks the door, and reads with an intensity that belies the distractedness with which he meets most other tasks. After an hour, we insist that he play with his brother, who has learned to meet his David’s daily rebuffs with the tenacity of a Michael Moore pursuing an interview with General Motors’ CEO Roger Smith.



But alone with Theo fed, rested, free of parental injunctions and with the fraternal tolerance born of new-day novelty, he and his brother can play together beautifully. Whether they’re rabbits hiding from a marauding stoat or Revolutionary War soldiers planning a heroic raid to replenish provisions, their most interactive play lies in a world of make believe. If I gently knock on their bedroom door, I am met like one who has interrupted a job interview--tolerated briefly but quickly dispatched. Revering these play periods, Bob and I occasionally pause at the playroom door to catch snippets of their improvised drama, which usually begins with Theo jockeying for a reversal of his little-brother status: "I’m the red fox and you’re the weasel." "I don’t want to be a weasel. I want to be a gray wolf." "Okay, you’re the gray wolf." "No, I want to be a hyena." "No, you can’t be a hyena, we’re North American mammals." "The timber wolf is good. Theo, the timber wolf is a good choice. There’s a Minnesota basketball team called the Timberwolves."

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