Autism Awareness Month. R is for Relationships

Day 18

“Are you sure he has Autism? He’s so friendly…”. While there are more nuanced aspects now to the criteria, failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level is one of the defining and most obvious diagnostic identification for children with autism. Interest in people in general, desire for friendships and loving behavior can muddy the diagnostic waters and confuse people about what autism is and what autism isn’t. Disconnectedness, aloofness and lack of desire to be touched does not always translate as a lack of desire for relationships. The desire is there, the understanding for how that happens is not. It can just be easier to be by yourself. A1 can tell you that. Indiscriminate friendliness, hugs and kisses to those he loves and the compulsive desire to be around a lot of people doesn’t always coexist with developmentally appropriate social skills. A2 probably would tell you that part…if he could. He is just as likely to enthusiastically greet a stranger in a public bathroom as he would a child at school he knows well. A2’s splintered play skills had to be taught like you would teach a typically developing child how to read. And he has missed many steps in this such as building with blocks and representational play. This spectrum of deficit in social interactions makes it much like I am raising 2 only children. A2 wants nothing more than to play with A1, but has no idea how to engage in some of the more rigid independent activities he is playing….and A1 wants nothing more than to play by himself because he has no idea how to model the back and forth necessary for that interaction to work if it is not an activity of high interest. I believe they love each other…but much of the time it is like they are drifting in separate rafts in a tumultuous sea of desire for one another’s companionship without oars the to paddle over to each other. Sometimes their boats coincidentally bump. It is those moments as a mom I see a glimmer of typical sibling antagonism, tattling and sometimes even a game of Connect 4 and hope that they both hold on to each other’s rafts and paddle to shore together one day.

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