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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Best Friends

For autistic children the idea of friends is very different.  Their interests are often so focused on one or two specific things (for Aidan it's trains and storm-chasing, but it's branching out and often includes Star Wars or related things).  Because of this, it is often hard for neurotypical kids to relate to autistic children because they get bored with the autistic child's single-minded interest in something.  Also, autistic kids have a hard time understanding social mores.  There is no "polite" where the truth is involved.  If you're bothering him, you're bothering him and he's going to tell you.  If he has something to tell you about something you said (even if it doesn't seem related) he's going to interrupt and tell you (he may even think you're done talking because he can't read your face to know that you were continuing a thought).  Most neurotypical kids don't have the maturity or the patience to put up with the oddities that make up autism, and so they do one of two things: they either make fun of the child endlessly, or they just stop playing with the child.

Aidan has two true friends (I would say three, but he hasn't seen Hayden in so long, I'm not really sure where their friendship stands).  One of those two friends is autistic as well.  Jacob is the same age as Aidan and about the same level of functionality as well.  Because they live by most of the same social rules, they get along well.  When one has reached his limit of socialization, the other is usually at about the same point and they separate with no feelings hurt to give themselves time to reset and refresh. They both have similar single-minded interests and so they can share those focuses with each other without getting bored.  It's interesting to see their interaction, but I understand why they get along so well.

Aidan's other best friend is Jonas.  Jonas is a completely typical little boy, in every sense of the word.  What's very interesting though, is that he somehow seems to understand Aidan's actions and oddities and needs and he responds to them with compassion and patience instead of fear or disgust.  Don't get me wrong - the two have arguments and fights, just like any other two little boys would.  But Jonas doesn't fight unfairly, he doesn't take advantage of Aidan's limitations of language or social understanding (and trust me, I've seen most every other kid Aidan has played with do this very thing).  Aidan's imagination and social competency has grown so much since he's started playing with Jonas and it's amazing to watch him grow when he's around this little red-haired kid.

What I'm curious about, and may never learn the answer to, is how and why Jonas, unlike all the other neurotypical kids Aidan has met, is able to mold his own behaviors and sociality and methods of playing to suit what Aidan needs.  He's open-minded and compassionate (and very mischievous!) and he genuinely enjoys playing with Aidan.  I wish I understood what was different about how this kid sees the world so I could use it to help other people better adapt to their peers who are anything but typical.  What lessons has this six year old kid learned that the rest of us need to be taught?