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Autism and Mommy’s Playdate Frustration

For stay at home moms, the play date is essential to our sanity. We can go days, even weeks, without coming into contact with other human beings we are not related to, and although our husbands may be human beings, they just don’t count.

The importance of the play date should not be waved off, either. Our children learn from playing with other children. As a former teacher, I strongly believe playing is an essential component of learning. When I decided to quit teaching and stay home, I was excited to meet some other stay at home moms and begin the sacred ritual known as the play date. I was also determined … no … desperate … to have friends other than my son’s three therapists.

Though I didn’t know these women well, they seemed smart and happy. We all had backgrounds in related fields, and our children were very close in age. The moms that had older children were great at sharing experiences and tips, but these suggestions were carefully dispersed and didn’t come across as lectures at all. And, as mentioned earlier, I needed friends outside of an O.T., a special education coordinator, and a speech therapist.

Most of these play dates looked like this:  After setting up toys, books, and snacks, we would get coffee and arrange ourselves so we could see the kids, but far enough away so we could talk about them. It was a positive group of smart, happy women. Children would be parallel playing, or running in circles around the house, laughing, and once in a while, fighting.

Then there was us. I say us, because I really didn’t know where I ended and my son began. My child would be clinging to my leg, only content on my lap. When redirected to the other children, he would whimper or simply follow me back to my place. It wasn’t that he would refuse to play with the other kids, he just didn’t, wouldn’t, or couldn’t, and I don’t know which of those it was. The difference between him and the other children was so glaring, and yet there was no odd behavior that made him stand out either. No stemming, no flailing, no yelling or screaming. When the moms would be sharing experiences of their children, my stories neverconnected. I had the story about scheduling two therapists at the same time, the psychologist who brought up Autism, or the early intervention counselor who was twenty minutes late and intruded on nap time. I listened to discussions about how someone was a week late with coloring their hair, and it would remind me that I hadn’t cut mine in four months!

When the phones rang of the other women, it would be a quick call about evening plans, a funny story of work, or the spouse calling to check on the wife and kiddo. Most likely when my phone rang, it was a therapist. Appointments need to be shuffled around, information needed dispensing. For every time one of these calls were benign, there were times when I’d have to bite my lip to keep from crying.

The end of the play date was usually cut short for us as well, mostly because we had to dash off to therapy session number two. Or my son and I were simply exhausted from speech, O.T., and having to stop at the store on the way to the play date. Once in a while, the other moms would begin talking about a time at the park or restaurant before realizing my son and I hadn’t been invited. It was never malicious, but it stung. Again, there was nothing so inherently obviously wrong with my son, but we certainly changed the tone of the play date. He couldn’t engage with the other kids, which meant I couldn’t really engage with the other mothers.

There came a time when I stopped attending the play dates for a bit; not because we weren’t welcome, or because the other kids wouldn’t play with my child. Some days just going to the grocery store and library felt like a feat, and then add countless therapy sessions and preschool to the mix, it got to be too much. I was fortunate, though. Some of these moms kept calling me, they had faith in me, and they knew I needed them. They would find out my schedule and come over. As my son improved, he became a willing participant, or at least enjoyed watching the other children. Eventually I could have a full conversation with another grown up.

Though he still has obstacles to overcome, my peanut often asks to have friends over. It’s nice to watch him laugh with his friends, and sometimes he will even engage with other children. I am so grateful, grateful that these women did not give up on me and my need to discuss Toddlers and Tiaras or a successful recipe I attempted. Back in those insane days of Early Intervention and constant therapy, I did realize my definition of play date. Looking back, for me it was a group of women who supported me, and recognized that although I was distracted during our dates, they made sure to talk to me about the mundane, trivial events of my life that had nothing-absolutely nothing-to do with therapy.

Julia is now sick of play dates-but it’s a good thing! juliagarstecki.com