The past school year has been a difficult one. Our family moved from our home in Maryland of six years to a new home in Kentucky when my husband, Kyle, accepted a new worship pastor position at a church in a small town. We tearfully bid goodbye to the church we had come to love so dearly, many of whom held the same status in our eyes as our own blood family. Our kids had to part ways with their friends from school, which was the best environment we could have hoped for, for all of our three boys. They all had great friends and they all loved their teachers. It was so hard as a parent to uproot the boys and move to a new place, trying desperately to convince them (and ourselves!) that they would make new friends and that everything would be okay.
We moved as soon as school was out, so the kids had about 6 weeks of summer to adjust to our new home before starting school, which began and ended a month earlier in KY than it did in MD, making for a shorter summer. Those six weeks were hard because the only social interactions they had were with kids at church, whom they saw twice a week, if they even saw the same kids each week. It’s really hard for them to get to know people well and feel comfortable around them (and vice versa) when they only spend a few hours a week with each other. I was so happy for school to start so they could be around other kids more often and start making friends. But night after night at first, then dwindling down to a few times a week after a few months, Sam cried in bed that he wanted to go back to Maryland. He wanted to go back to his old school, Monocacy. He missed his friends. He missed his teachers. He missed the only home he could remember, since he’s too young to remember our home in Missouri before we moved to Maryland when he was 3 years old.
He said he didn’t have any friends. He said he’d never again make a best friend, like the one he used to have at Monocacy. He felt out of place, and his autism really wasn’t helping things. Kids didn’t understand what he was doing when they watched him script and role play lightsaber fights during recess, talking out loud all by himself. And when kids don’t understand something, the typical response is to think that it’s weird. They might make fun of it. They might call the person who is doing the strange things names. And Sam experienced some of this his first year here.
Whatever my son chooses to tell me is all I know. He can remember long movie scripts verbatim, but he can’t always tell me what happened at school. He would sometimes tell me he had a good day, or a bad day, but not be able to really articulate why it was good or bad. Sometimes I would get full stories, word for word. But most of the time, especially if it was a sad or bad thing that happened, he would get too frustrated trying to tell me what happened in chronological order and he would just break down. It’s like the information is in there, but the emotions are so strong that they override the logical explanation of the situation.
We continued to hear how much he liked his old school better. We spent a lot of time explaining to him that it takes time to make new friends, and that it can be hard when he’s waiting to make new friends. We hugged him, sat with him, answered his questions as best we could, and tried to calm his anxious heart about the fact that he still didn’t have a best friend. I cried my own tears on his behalf, because it’s hard watching your child experience something you know is hard because you’ve been there yourself. On the bright side, it’s exactly because I have been there myself many times in my life that I was able to console him, and tell him how confident I was that he would make friends soon.
Then, one day, it happened. He came home from school and said with a shy half-smile, “Well mom, guess what? I finally have a best friend.”
Calmly (but inwardly freaking out), I replied, “Oh, really? That’s great! What’s his name?”
“His name is Connor. He’s in my homeroom class. And you know what else? He also has autism.”
I celebrated with him for a few minutes as he told me a little more about his new friend. He ran off to play and I sat down on the couch and breathed a very deep sigh of relief and prayed thanks to God for this wonderful blessing.
He had a friend.
He was going to be okay.
He wanted to ask Connor to come over one day after school, so I contacted his mom so we could chat. We went out to coffee together, and the two of us talked for three hours. She brought Connor over one Saturday afternoon for the boys to hang out together, and it. was. awesome. Kids with autism tend to perseverate on obsessions or certain activities. Sam conducts his own lightsaber battles, complete with scripts by multiple people (all played by him) when he plays on his own. Now, he had a friend who not only had autism just like him, but loved Star Wars just as much. They played together in one giant lightsaber battle, scripting together, for two solid hours.
What’s more, Sam wasn’t the only one excited about a new friend. I didn’t really have any super close in-person friends who had kids with autism in Maryland. I knew some people, but we weren’t really good friends and we didn’t see each other often. I had prayed and prayed for close autism mom friends, but it wasn’t until we moved to Kentucky that God answered that prayer. Our pastor has a son with autism, and his wife and I became fast friends over the phone before we even moved. Then, God answered the prayers of Sam – not only by giving him a best friend, but one who can truly understand him. And by answering Sam’s prayer, He only blessed me more with yet another friend.
Connor doesn’t think the things Samuel does are weird or strange. He thinks they’re cool. Because he does them too. They are two peas in a pod. Connor has also been diagnosed with Tourette’s, ADHD, OCD, and anxiety. Sam doesn’t seem to notice any of his ticks, and I’ve explained to him things he might have questions about, but so far, nothing has come up. His mom and I don’t have to explain things first before dropping off our kid at a playdate together at our houses. We get it. We both know how huge this kind of thing is. It’s not always easy for our kids to make friends. Or rather, sometimes, they can make friends easily, but keeping friends is more difficult, which has been Connor’s struggles in the past. Sam has struggled to make friends since moving, but seems to have no problem keeping them once they are “officially” friends. Each of their weaknesses is the other’s strength. Considering they are headed into middle school together this fall, I’m glad they have each other to lean on for support and friendship. Here’s hoping they share some classes together too!
For autism awareness month, I went to Sam’s school and had the privilege of talking to the entire 5th grade class about autism. I had some hands-on demonstrations to help them understand autism better, and hopefully helped them gain a deeper understanding and empathy for both Sam and Connor, as well as anyone else they may meet with autism. Sam was sick when I went, so I videotaped it for him and he watched it later. He pointed out another boy in the class, Grady, who was one of my helpers, and said, “He’s my best friend, too!” He had never told me about this friend. I never heard his name, or any stories about him at home. But, he was very excited to tell me that he was in fact best friends with this kid. I was able to meet Grady at field day a couple weeks later, and from what I saw, it was obvious he felt the same way about Sam. There was a small group of kids who Sam was standing with and wanted to take pictures with all of them. They were all so funny, making peace signs and “cool” faces, with arms draped around each other’s shoulders. It was one of the most amazing things to see, especially since I had no idea he had these friendships!!
The point here is there could be more to your child than he’s telling you. You might be hearing tales of woe and sadness from your child about what happened at school or during other activities. And those things are certainly valid and legitimate. Sam has been physically bullied, which he hated to tell me about because he was embarrassed. It broke my heart, and his. I’ve heard the sad stories, and they are real. But there could be good things that are just as real going on that you don’t know about, simply because of your child’s communication and verbal expression abilities, or lack thereof. If I had never gone to the school to meet these kids either during the presentation or for field day, I still wouldn’t know about those other kids, whom he calls his friends (even best friends!)
Sometimes, mom or dad, it might not be as bad as you think. It really could be something so much more. There could be blessings in your son or daughter’s life, that you might also eventually have yourself, just like I did. You just don’t know it … yet.
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