Category Archives: Friends

NEHBM

That’s my friend Carrie‘s acronym, NEHBM. It stands for not enough has been made, usually in reference to some little or not-so-little thing that a person in our life says or does that is worthy of appreciation, such as a teacher or aide who shares in our children’s small developmental coups, something that other people might not notice. Such as a friend’s relative who doesn’t mind when our children take off their clothes at a family barbeque. Such as the woman in the public restroom who says “I understand” when our children start screaming because someone flushed a toilet or started the air hand dryer. These are the compassionate people who get it, and NEHBM of the fact that they do.

Our family has been blessed with many people like that over the years (including all three of the ones mentioned above). We’ve also been blessed with some truly wonderful friends. Several years ago, in his quest for friendship, Nigel discovered The Goonies and picked a few boys from his Scout troop to be his group of friends, like he saw in the movie. A few times a year, they would come over to our house to hang out, and Nigel would have them sit on the couch and watch The Goonies while he recited the lines and assigned them roles to play. And they would be compassionate good sports and watch the movie with him, attempting to act out the parts as he directed. But, of course, things change. In recent years, one of the three boys opted not to come around anymore, and another one moved out of state, leaving only one to be Nigel’s remaining “Goonie” friend.

NEHBM of that one friend. A couple of weekends ago, Nigel decided that he wanted to ride his bike over to N‘s house (about a mile and a half away) to see if he wanted to hang out. I suggested that he call N first to make sure he was home before he rode all the way over there, so he did. N wasn’t home and Nigel left a message on their answering machine. He had done this before with the other two friends and not heard back either for several days or not at all. Nigel’s disappointment was always palpable. But that night, N called Nigel back. Not only did he say he was sorry he wasn’t home earlier, he invited Nigel to come over after school one day the following week. Wait – did you catch that italicized part? That sort of thing just doesn’t happen for Nigel, and he was elated. So was I. A few days later, Nigel went over to N‘s house, had a fun visit, and rode his bike home at the agreed-upon time. Like any regular teenager might do. Like autism didn’t matter that day. After a lifetime of always being different, that afternoon was such a gift – both for Nigel and for me.

N‘s mom and I have also become friends over the years, and I can’t thank her enough for being the kind of parent we all wish there were more of, and for raising the kids that we all wish there were more of. Cheryl, my friend, thank you so much for all that you are and all that you do. NEHBM.

What Really Matters, Part 2

These goodbyes are just about killing me. Since school is out, I did what I usually do at the end of every school year – I write a thank you note to those who had worked with my son, telling them how much I appreciate all they’ve done. Only this time, it wasn’t a thank-you-for-the-great-year. It was an I-can’t-thank-you-enough-for-the-difference-you-have-made-in-my-son’s-life.

A few days ago I sent an e-mail to the Regional Autism Consultant for southern Oregon, who has known Nigel since his non-verbal days and worked one-on-one with him years before she took her current position. I think she has worked with my son for twelve years. So I began with, “You’ve been in the picture so long that it’s hard to come up with an adequate way to thank you” and proceeded to express my gratitude for all that she has done, including designing Nigel’s weekly social skills class (and recruiting other students to be in it) specifically for him. Her gracious response made me cry, of course, especially when I read “Nigel brought such wonderful perspective to the social skills group, he was so very open and honest and a very active participant which really made the group successful – I will miss him so very much.”

*

Last week, I took Nigel to his last Scout meeting, where they had a goodbye party for him. Being in this particular Scout troop has been so beneficial for Nigel, for many reasons. As can well be expected (due to terrible news stories about abuse in some Scout troops), a Scout troop is only as successful – and as good – as its leader. And I don’t see how there could possibly be a better Scoutmaster out there. We are so blessed with the troop that Nigel’s been part of for almost six years. Our Scoutmaster is by far the most patient person I’ve ever known. He also truly cares for Nigel. When the party was over and it was time to leave, the Scoutmaster said some generous parting words about Nigel and his progress as a Scout, and then he asked Nigel to stand at the door so that every Scout could shake his hand on their way out. I was so touched, so emotional, that I couldn’t even watch.

Our main consolation, which I keep reminding myself, is that we have close family that we will be able to see much more often in L.A. The boys can spend unlimited time with their father, who has lived there for over eight years. They have an uncle and two aunts there who adore them. And then there is their grandfather, who plans to take them to Thailand later this year. I have missed all of them tremendously over the years that we’ve been apart, and I’m so looking forward to sharing more of our lives with them. But as important as family is, kids – especially teenagers – need their friends.

As we drove home from the Scout party that night, Nigel said to me, “I don’t know if I’ll be able to find such good friends ever again.” And of course that really did me in. I croaked, “Oh, honey. I know that your friends here mean a lot to you, and you’ll miss them so much. But you’ll be able to find new good friends in L.A. And they will find you. Because you are a very friendly, caring person, and good people will always want to be friends with you. I really believe that, Nigel.”

He simply said, “Yeah.” But there was hope in his voice.

*

The boys have gone now. They are in L.A., barbequing and bodysurfing with their dad, while I remain in Oregon (for now) to sell the house. I have started sorting through things and packing, slowly but purposefully. Over the weekend I came across an assignment that Nigel had done in middle school, during a time when he was being bullied relentlessly. It was from around the time that he had taken his yearbook and scribbled on all the faces of the kids who had bullied him, and when I looked at it later I cried because there had been so many scribbled faces. This assignment that I found was a “time capsule” that the teacher said she sends to all the students when they graduate from high school, so that they can remember what middle school was like for them. It had items like “My favorite foods” and “My pets” listed next to a blank line. It listed “Friends” with a blank line after it to write your friends’ names on.

But instead of listing his friends’ names on the line, like most kids would have done, next to the word “Friends,” Nigel had written “many.” Even then, he believed that he had many friends. Even then.

What Really Matters

This isn’t the first time I’ve moved out of state. And it’s not the first time I’ve had to downsize either. But something about this time is so daunting that I haven’t even begun to pack. The boys are leaving in less than two weeks to be with their dad in Los Angeles, and I’m leaving in less than two months to move to Not-Sure-Yet. Now that Nigel won’t be able to go to the special school we wanted him to attend (at least not in the foreseeable future), I have to get to L.A. sooner than originally planned so that I can get him set up at his new school, which is called Not-Sure-Yet High. At least we have it narrowed down to a couple, and the one we choose will of course determine where I get an apartment. Yes, that’s right – apartment. I haven’t lived in an apartment for ten years. The boys were much smaller then and had fewer things! And I’m downsizing a four-bedroom house into a two-bedroom apartment. That should be fun. Time for creative packing! Ever played the “I don’t know, honey, it must have gotten lost in the move” game? And no, the house hasn’t sold yet. This – this planning and packing and changing our lives – is truly an exercise in belief.  

So, due to our impending move, for the past few weeks the boys and I have been the honored recipients of various invitations for get-togethers, barbeques, and goodbye parties. Last month, we had lunch with my 92-year-old grandmother, the boys’ only living great-grandparent. Last weekend, we went with my mom, sister and brother-in-law, and my little nephew to our spot on the coast where we’ve been going every year for nine years. It’s been bittersweet, of course. On the one hand, I am excited to get going, to get a move on (ha! So that’s where he gets it!) and finish the process I’d begun six months ago, when we were fogged in all day at our local airport and I said, That’s it! I’m done! This was also after an extremely cold December, complete with daytime temperatures in single digits, which I’d never experienced in my twenty years of living in southern Oregon. But it wasn’t just the weather, of course. It was a combination of factors, all of which carried far more weight than the weather. And it’s time for those factors to change. On the other hand, it’s so hard to leave our life here behind, and the people in it.

Last night, the boys had their long-time friends over for one last sleepover. I bought two huge pizzas, soda, ice cream, chips, and stuff for homemade waffles in the morning. The boys walked through my front door, all of them now much taller than I am, greeted me in their deep voices, and loped out to our game room, where we’ve had sleepovers for the past seven years. I have watched these little boys become young men!!  (Okay, must not cry on the keyboard now.) And such wonderful young men they are. These friends of Nigel’s have stuck by him through unnerving meltdowns and endless movie echolalia. They were there for him when I had to homeschool him and they were there for him when he returned to regular school. They have given him the gift that every person needs and deserves – friendship. Words cannot express my gratitude. I love these boys.

There are more goodbye parties to come – Tuesday at Boy Scouts and next week at Nigel’s special education classroom. Nigel’s Scoutmaster, who’s known him for over six years, has more patience than anyone I’ve ever met, and Nigel’s special education teacher has put forth every effort to meet his needs, just in the nine months that she’s known him. The facilitator of his social skills class, who has known him since his non-verbal days, actually created the class two years ago just for him. Just for my son, because that’s what he needed. And there are so many others. I sit here tallying up all the people who have touched our lives, who have shown so much kindness to us, even those online whom we have not yet met. It overwhelms me, this downpour of love. We have been truly blessed.

The best part is that, in thinking of all the wonderful friends and family members we will miss, I have been reminded of what’s really important. It’s the people in our lives. It’s not where I’ll live, where I’ll work, where my kids will go to school, and making sure that everything is planned, that we know where every step takes us.  The Not-Sure-Yets will become certainties soon enough. The packing will get done when needed. Somehow it all works out. What really matters is how we love, and how we are loved. We will go forward into our new environment surrounded by the warmth of those who have cared for us, and will continue to from across the miles. And I’m certain that their warmth – their love – will see us through.

Christmas ’08: my sister (and nephew on-the-way!), brother-in-law, Nigel, me, my grandmother, my two aunts, and my mom. Photography by Aidan!

The Play’s the Thing

I come from a family of theater enthusiasts, myself included. And although I am the only one of four children never to have starred in a play, I was always happy to watch them. Enthralled, actually. A good production is amazing to see, and even better to share.

So I always wondered if my son, now fifteen, would ever be able to enjoy seeing a play with me. In the past, it was out of the question. His sensory issues due to his autism and his need for frequent breaks would not have made a play possible. He would have never made it to intermission. But his love of movies has sparked a recent interest in theater, so he started taking a theater class as an elective. And when comp tickets for a student-written play were given out to his class, he was motivated to go.

We ran through a little social story beforehand to prepare him – must not talk or make any noises during the play, must not get up before intermission unless it’s an emergency, etc. The theater class students were to sit in a reserved section of the theater – the first three rows. I urged him to sit near the aisle in case he needed to leave, and then I went to find a seat several rows behind him. I loved watching him choose his seat in the ten minutes before the play began. First, he sat in the third row near the aisle – good, I thought. He stayed there for a few minutes, and then he got up and nonchalantly moved to the middle of the front row. Probably not the best choice for him. He seemed a little uncomfortable there, and sure enough, he got up after a moment and moved again. Then Goldilocks settled in the second row, a few seats over from the aisle. Well done, I thought. And there he stayed.

The lights dimmed, and the play, a musical adaptation of The Lord of the Flies (yes, I said musical), began. I was highly intrigued to see how the songs would be handled, and I must say that I was quite impressed. This was definitely not a comedic musical; the songs were well written in a dramatic tone and fit seamlessly in the course of the story. And what a talented group of young actors and singers! The boy in the roll of Ralph had an incredible singing voice – I could have listened to him for hours. All of the students amazed me – the set was admirable, and the performance was flawless.

At intermission, Nigel got up and I met him out in the aisle, where he quietly told me that he was going to the bathroom. I told him how well he was doing and went back to my seat. Nigel came back a few minutes later and returned to the same spot in the second row. He turned around and gave me a little smile, and my heart soared.

When the play ended, he applauded with everyone else and then came back to find me. I could tell that he was a little worked up, and I stuck close to him as we filed out of the theater. We entered the foyer, and all the actors were out greeting people. Nigel walked toward the actor who played the character Piggy, held his (own) arms up, and said triumphantly, “It was magnificent!” I smiled, not remembering when I last heard so much emotion in his usually stoic voice. Piggy thanked him and said, “I’m so glad you could make it!” My son then introduced me to the talented boy, a senior, who had adapted the play and written the songs, and had starred in the roll of Jack. I shook his hand and congratulated him, telling him how amazing it was. Inside, I marveled at all these wonderful kids who had befriended my son, a freshman with the different speech patterns, sensory issues, and social mannerisms of autism. These kids were so genuine, so sincere. They welcomed him as one of them.

I asked Nigel if he was ready to go. I could tell he was a little amped up, and even I was starting to feel a little claustrophobic. Things had gone well, and I wanted to get home and relax. “Wait! I want you to meet Ian,” he said, looking around. How did he know all these kids?! This was a side of him I had never seen before! And then, as if to illustrate that point exactly, he suddenly called out, “Ian!” and threw his arms around the boy who had played Ralph, the one whose voice I loved. Nigel gave him an immense hug – a victory hug. And Ralph/Ian hugged him back, smiling and thanking him.

It was the first time I had ever seen my son initiate a hug. All his life he’s patiently – albeit stiffly – accepted our hugs, indulged us. I’ve always said that hugging Nigel was like hugging a surfboard, and the taller he gets, the truer that is. Once, when I surprised him with homemade chicken tacos (his favorite dinner), he tackled me with a wrestling move that literally took me to the floor, but I’d never seen him solicit a real hug in his fifteen years.  And now there was this. This perfectly executed, wonderfully appropriate, well-received hug. And I got to see it happen, right before my eyes. It was beautiful, something I didn’t know I’d ever see.

“This is my mom,” I heard my son say. I felt like I was in a dream – people talking and moving all around me, creating a sort of buzz that put me in a hazy state. And I was overjoyed, just filled with emotion, choking back tears as I smiled and shook the hand of yet another talented young man who obviously means a lot to my son. I told him how much I enjoyed his singing; I wasn’t able to get much else out.

We left soon afterward, walking side by side to the car in the cold night air. Nigel exclaimed how great the play was, and I was so happy to have enjoyed it with him. I breathed in sharply to fend off my joyful tears, thinking only of the wonderful gifts that were bestowed upon me that night – watching a play with my son and witnessing a most glorious, unexpected hug. Every day with my son I learn that the simplest things are often the most profoundly experienced.

 

My Estate

My friends are my estate.  – Emily Dickinson

Where would we be without our friends? I know that I would certainly be in a far less positive state of mind without mine, at any point in my life. Everything – from walking to school in fourth grade to attending high school dances to needing someone to help me move or crying about my divorce – would have been so much harder without them. Nor would the enjoyable things have been as much fun. Upon my return from our recent mini-trip, I realized that forging that connection was the point of the entire weekend.

We started off by visiting Aidan’s best friend since first grade. He had moved out of our area in the spring and now lives on the central coast, almost four hours away. We drove to their home on Friday night, and the boys had a great time playing video games and goofing off. I enjoyed seeing his friend’s mom, with whom I have also become friends. I love the fact that among the many benefits of having children are the new friends we meet because of them. I probably would never have met her if Aidan hadn’t become friends with her son, and I enjoy her company and talking about our lives while our kids get to roll down huge sand dunes and make up for lost time. It doesn’t surprise me to note the similarities between the parents of my children’s friends and me.

The next morning, Nigel and I left Aidan at his friend’s house and continued up the gorgeous coast. We met up with Pixie and her husband at the Oregon Coast Aquarium and enjoyed looking at all the marine exhibits, including the shark tunnel. Nigel communicated with a sea otter. The Pixie parents found souvenirs that were perfect for each of their children back home. Then we caravanned up to the house that they had rented in Rockaway Beach, gorged ourselves on savory Mexican food for dinner, built a bonfire on the beach, hot-tubbed, and talked until we nearly passed out. Pixie and her husband are yet another example of friends I have met because of my children. If Nigel had not had autism, I would not have started blogging (at least not about autism), and then I would have missed a friendship with two amazing people who know what it’s like to have to fight for your children, who experience the same emotions and triumphs and fears, and who share many of the same priorities and dreams. They are warm, witty, and genuine, and I am so happy to have spent time with them. They may live far away, and they may be among the newest of my friends, but I value my connection with them immensely.

Sunday morning, Nigel and I drove a little further up the coast and had brunch with a friend I’ve had for 28 years. We went to elementary and junior high school together in southern California, and we’ve kept in touch through high school, college, and beyond. Though in some ways our lives are different, I think it’s no small coincidence that we both ended up making Oregon our home (even though at opposite ends of the state)! We shared a lovely brunch of homemade popovers with homemade peach jam, talked about our families, looked at the photo album of my Nepal trip, and commented that we need to find a way to see each other more often!

After that, Nigel and I made our way back down the coast and picked up Aidan, and then we jogged back to the middle of the state to stop in and see my sister and brother-in-law and my five-month-old nephew. He is the smiliest, cutest little bug ever! My brother and sister-in-law also happened to be visiting that day, up from LA. It was such a wonderful, impromptu little reunion! We took turns holding the newest member of the family, feasted on a lovely pasta dish with homemade pesto, and sampled my sister’s homebrewed beer. We laughed and reminisced. We communed. All of us enjoy each other’s company so much. I realized that my siblings – and their spouses – are not only family, they are among my cherished friends.  

And so I wonder again, where would I be without them in my life? Where would any of us be? As Emily put it, my friends are my estate. And there is so much room in the human heart. More than we could ever imagine.

with Pixie at Cannon Beach – photography by Nigel!

A Weekend Jaunt

We are bound for the coast as soon as we get home from work and school! Yes! Nigel has completed two successful weeks of high school, and it’s time for a little break. A few issues have come up, but I’m very satisfied with how they’re being addressed. I’ll go into a little more detail next week. For now, we’re packing! Aidan is going to stay with his best friend who moved in the spring, and Nigel and I are going to visit some other friends, including Pixie, who’s vacationing on the Oregon coast this week! (Go ahead, click on the link and check out her blog!) I’m so excited to see her!

I won’t be posting here again until next week, but on Sunday I’ll be at Hopeful Parents. It’s sort of a follow-up post to the one below. You know, once more with feeling. With any luck, I set the post time correctly, and it will be there first thing Sunday morning, while I’m having brunch with friends! Cheers! 

What’s Bigger Than a Circle?

Last weekend, Nigel had some friends spend the night for a little end-of-the-school-year party. I’ve mentioned Nigel’s friends, Nicholas and Tyler, before; Nicholas is Nigel’s age and Tyler is Aidan’s age. They are also brothers who are involved with Scouts, and we’ve been fortunate to know their family for several years. They’ve always been supportive and understanding of Nigel. I know that he values their friendship greatly, as do I.

So the boys had a blast, complete with pizza, root beer floats, gun fights, and a movie marathon. They’ll indulge Nigel in watching his latest favorite disaster movie with him, and he doesn’t mind if they fall asleep while they do. They’ve seen Nigel melt down, they’ve witnessed him being harassed at school, they know he’s prone to movie echolalia, used to have a type of barking laugh, and can sometimes get a little carried away when he’s having fun. They also know that sometimes he says things that are inappropriate or negative, and they realize that he doesn’t always understand these things. They’ve seen him at his worst, but they’ve also seen him at his best – creative, fun-loving, imaginative, and knowledgeable. I, for one, am so appreciative that they’ve stuck around. I know that Nigel is too.

And I appreciate their parents just as much. Their mom, Cheryl, a very good friend and a regular commenter here, and I like to talk for a bit during the pick-up/drop-off times when we can. We check in about our lives – our kids, parents, pets, homes, jobs, plans. Last weekend we talked about the upcoming transition to high school, that we couldn’t believe how big our older sons have so suddenly become.  I talked about how much better I feel about how Nigel’s doing socially, how the combination of his medication and having a few good kids around him has helped immensely. I mentioned that I thought it really made an impression on most of the other kids that I had to pull him out to homeschool him for a year and a half, and when he came back, many of them realized – hey, this is someone who needs a little extra help, a little understanding. Maybe those kids even matured a bit. Cheryl told me that she had recently asked Nicholas how Nigel was doing at school, if anyone was bothering him. Nicholas told her that aside from a small group of kids that likes to target him, everyone else has been nice to him. He said that if anyone sees any of that group approach Nigel to bother him, someone else always goes over to intervene and help Nigel out. They’ve got his back.

I told Cheryl how glad I was to hear that, and if, in my choked-up state, I neglected to thank her, I’m doing it now. Her boys, and a few others, have always been the core of Nigel’s circle. A few months ago, when Nigel, by choice, started back at the middle school to finish eighth grade, I tried to form a Circle of Friends by requesting it at his IEP meeting, talking to the principal about it, and emailing information to those who could make it happen. Despite my efforts, the administration didn’t pursue it. I felt so bad, felt that I should have done more, been a squeakier wheel.

But something did happen. When I wrote the letter to the school administrators, they talked to the kids who were involved in making a spectacle of Nigel. They – finally – told the kids a little about autism. And some of those kids felt remorse, and concern. And instead of continuing to have fun at his expense, many of them changed. They started being kind and helping him. I had read that this can be a positive result of Circle of Friends programs – that even kids who are not involved in the program hear about it and respond to the autistic students differently than they had before. It’s a ripple effect that can sometimes reach the whole school. That is what I hoped for when I requested a Circle of Friends program at Nigel’s school. And even though the program was never officially started, it seemed to happen on its own.

Less than a year ago, Nigel sat in his room one night and drew ape faces in his yearbook on the photos of all the kids that had bullied him. It made him feel better – his own type of art therapy. It was heartbreaking to see how many faces he drew over. This week, when he came home with his yearbook, it was filled with autographs and well-wishes for a good summer. It was filled with “you’re cool” and “see you next year.” These kids will be going with him to the local high school in September.

I had wanted a Circle for Nigel, but in less than three months, I got something much bigger. And I have a feeling that we’ll be having a lot more pizza-and-movie parties at our house next year.

Getting to Know an Autistic Teen

I got some funny searches this week: “100 count a Kindergarten,” “living in a car,” “angel of doom,” and “how to sew a wolf head.” But my favorite search this week was not, I presume, intended to be funny. And I want to give a big hug to the person who typed it in.

how to get to know an autistic teen

Wow! Doesn’t that renew your faith in humanity? Whoever you are, can we clone you? If more people wanted to get to know autistic teens, if more people realized that they have feelings and interests and personalities worth knowing and cared enough to find out how to achieve that, our kids would be a lot happier and so would we. And more people’s lives would be enhanced by knowing them. Because, verbal or not, they have a lot to offer.

So, how do you get to know an autistic teen? Your approach should depend somewhat on the teen’s communication ability. If you’re wanting to get to know a non-verbal autistic teen, your best bet is to contact the parents or caregiver first to find out what you can about the teen: likes, dislikes, things that might upset them. They might communicate with PECS or writing, or some other method. The important thing to remember is that, regardless of how they communicate, their receptive communication is usually much greater than their expressive, and autistic teens understand a lot more than people realize.

The following is a list of guidelines for getting to know an autistic teen:

  • Find out their interests, which may or may not include computers, Lego, science, history, movies, superheroes, movies about superheroes, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, etc. (Fellow parents, feel free to add to this list of interests in the comments!)
  • Don’t expect eye contact, handshakes, or hugs. At least not for a long time, in most cases.
  • Don’t use figures of speech, which tend to be confusing for literal-minded autistic teens.
  • Do expect many verbal autistic teens to speak in a monotone voice – it doesn’t mean they aren’t interested or are being rude. This type of voice is just a common trait of autistic teens.
  • Don’t expect terms of politeness. Autistic teens often forget to say thank you when you give them something, whether it’s a compliment or a gift or a piece of gum. If you ask “How are you?” they might say “Fine” but not reciprocate by asking the same of you. Conversational niceties are difficult for autistic teens to remember because most do not understand the purpose. Many try to remember to say them anyway.
  • Do be patient. Sometimes it takes a moment for the autistic teen to formulate a response.
  • Don’t expect them to talk for long periods of time in a conversational manner. You know how when someone trips a little, a friend might jokingly say, “Been walking long?” Well, some autistic teens haven’t been “talking long.” Mastering the art of conversation is something that many of them are still working on, and will continue to. They might likely end the conversation by bluntly saying, “I’m done talking now. Bye.” Again, they don’t mean to be rude. Don’t take it personally.
  • Do be aware, especially if talking outside, that autistic teens may react wildly to an insect that flies near them or to a sound that startles them or a sudden bright light in their eyes. Just accept that it’s part of who they are, and know that they can’t help it and they deal with it as best as they can.
  • Don’t feel slighted if you say hi to them in passing and they don’t respond. They’re so busy filtering all the sensory input of wherever they are and trying to organize their brain that a passing hello often won’t register until after you’ve passed them. Again, don’t take it personally. Really – they cannot help it. Many autistic teens also contend with face-blindness.
  • Do realize that even though an autistic teen may not show many facial expressions while interacting, most of them still want friends, and all of them have feelings. They probably really appreciate that you’re taking the time to get to know them and understand them, but they don’t know how to tell you that. Be persistent but respectful. They are worth it! And so are you. Take it from a parent of an autistic teen – we appreciate you more than words can say.

Two Literal Minds

The Scene: A Boy Scout meeting inside a church hall. About twenty scouts are in attendance, and their parents and siblings, as this is family night. A game, like TV game shows such as Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, is in progress. The room is rather boisterous, with people shouting out answers, and the mother of the autistic teen is always amazed at how her son is now able to filter all the sensory stimuli and can handle being in the room. Not only can he handle it, he is participating, calling out answers, exuberantly displaying his excitement when he is correct. His mother is seated next to another mother of a scout, a preteen with Asperger’s. The two boys are also in the same social skills class together. When the game ends and the winning team is the one that the autistic teen is on, he stands up, does a little dance a la MC Hammer, and sings “Can’t touch this!” People in the surrounding area laugh good-naturedly. Suddenly, the Aspie gets up out of his chair, walks across the aisle to the autistic teen as he is singing, and touches him gently with an outstretched index finger. Thwarted, the autistic teen says, “Aagghh!” and sticks his tongue out at the fleeing Aspie.

Their mothers laugh out loud together.

What It’s Like to Have an Autistic Friend

I’ve written before about Nigel’s quest for friendship and his need to be social. He has been fortunate to meet some patient and friendly NT kids through his involvement in Scouting. Continuing with the What It’s Like series, I wanted to highlight a couple of his friends and ask them a few questions. They are brothers; the older one is Nigel’s age, and the younger one is Aidan’s age. Here are their combined responses:

1) How long have you known Nigel?  3 years; 7 years

2) What have you heard or been told about autism?  That just because they have autism doesn’t mean they are stupid. In fact, in some ways they can be smarter than normal.

3) What’s it like hanging out with Nigel?  It’s always fun; awesome – he’s super smart.

4) What ways have you noticed Nigel acting differently?  He gets up close to your face (not all the time).

5) When you’ve witnessed Nigel have what’s called a “meltdown” – become upset about something – how does that make you feel?    It makes me feel sad; sad and guilty.

6) Have you ever witnessed other kids giving him a hard time or bothering him?   Yes; yes, many times.

7) What’s the most difficult part about having an autistic friend?   Getting him to understand; not to get frustrated with him when you want to say something and he keeps cutting you off.

8) What do you like about having an autistic friend?   He’s super smart and has a great imagination – super fun to play with; it’s never boring!

9) Any advice you would like to mention for other kids who might meet someone with autism, or anything else you’d like to add?   Be patient!

A big thank you to Nicholas and Tyler! I appreciate your time in answering my questions, but I appreciate you so much more for being such good friends to Nigel (and Aidan). Our family is very fortunate to know yours. Also, many thanks to your mom, Cheryl, for facilitating the interview. You guys are the best!