“I feel alone Mommy…..”
“Mommy I am not sure I like the south yard anymore. “.
Last spring, Johnny found out that after Grade 2 he would move from the little kids yard to the big kids yard. He was so excited but this would make his little sister sad and worried because she liked knowing that her big brother was in the same yard as her at recess. After all she was going to still be in kindergarten and school still felt so new to her. So over the summer whenever Johnny would mention this big change coming for him Princess would get worried and tell him to please stop it was upsetting her.
Did he play with her at school? No. Did he run away from her if she tried to go to him. Yes. Teachers that were on yard duty said that this was normal behaviour and that siblings often don’t want to be near each other at recess and that they prefer to foster independence. I sort of could see their point but Johnny has a hard time with social interactions anywhere and everywhere and the one person he normally doesn’t have trouble interacting with his sister. So as many parents know that have school aged children you try to defer to the teachers wisdom but my gut was telling me that because of Autism we should never miss a teachable moment. After all social cues and not being able to read them, finding them confusion and not doing the social norms IS Autism.
Then Princess falls one day and still Johnny doesn’t go to her even though she is crying. It happens again. I see the problem they do not. I know that his peers tried to get him to go to her but he refused and ran away. Another teachable opportunity has passed again. At home I was teaching him how to help if one of us gets hurt and I would like this to be generalized outside of the home. Part of this is for the bigger plan of safety because you never know if one of us falls unconscious or something happens to one his grandparents when they are babysitting.
Because of Autism, I see teaching moments ALL THE TIME and I feel the twinge of panic all the time worrying will Johnny be able to be fully independent when he is grown up. Other kids might stumble there way through many social mistakes and come out in the end okay and ready to face the world. The thing is with Autism you know that social challenges are a big deal so I can’t just say “its recess let him do what he wants.” Every moment of every day he can learn from so he can add one more situation to his tool box to handle life. Is it easier to just let him run around at recess and do what he wants? Of course it is.
Fast forward to 9 weeks into school and of Grade 3 and he is not so excited anymore. One of his favourite girls he likes to play with by the name of Rio has been playing with another boy. This boy has Autism too but is more of the jump and run around very active type as opposed to Johnny’s sensory filled cognitive world. Johnny tries to keep up but he can’t completely replicate this kind of play and feels frustrated. He also feels jealousy as Rio plays more with his Autism classmate. His Autism classmate even gives her a friendship card because she was being so nice.
“I feel alone Mommy…..”
“Mommy I am not sure I like the south yard anymore. Mommy I’m not sure I like the south yard. I feel alone sometimes.
I stay with Ms. ****** so I don’t feel so alone”.
I am glad that the south yard duty teachers try and keep an eye on Johnny and are ok with him staying with them and chatting with them. I talk to his Grade 3 teacher who he enjoys sticking to and she says she enjoys him and worries about him at recess. She wants him to have friends and worries that teasing might happen because he doesn’t recognize when folks are joking and he is vulnerable then. She is the kind of teacher who will jump in immediately if she thinks kids are not being nice to each other.
The Autism teacher has a chat with the boys and Johnny’s Autism classmate is upset that Johnny is jealous of his friendship with Rio. They do a big social story on jealousy and how we can have the same friends but the friendships can be different just like we are different. Rio likes different things about each boy just like they like different things about Rio.
I remember then that when I go in and out of the school at recess all the Grade 3 kids are near the entrance playing and no where near the older kids. They are all having a hard time adjusting. Its a start for Johnny as he and the other Grade 3’s learn to handle being in the big kids yard. The only thing is that its hard for me to find solace in that when I know that Johnny finds the social stuff much harder to navigate. The rest of the kids will stumble and fall socially and will somehow find away. I am not always so sure with Johnny.
Fast forward to Grade 4 when the Fall brought lots of hope as Johnny was filled with excitement to be with his friends. He was chatting with the Moms of his friends and really getting into nice chats with them. I would cancel the school bus pick up and come and get the kids at school and watch with happiness as he would quickly give me a hug and race over to just hang with his peers. Most of them are girls but that’s okay. Winter has brought a noticeable change that I am still trying to put my finger on. He waits for his sister at the front door not so excited to stand with his peers. He is not so eager to talk to the parents either. What has happened?