When I get home from work every day, I make a point to ask my kids about their day. Anna rattles on about her friends and the goofy boys on the bus, but David's a little bit harder to get information from. He usually answers with a monosyllabic word or a shrug, so I try to engage him by asking specific questions. I'll ask if they read a book in class, and if so, what book it was. I'll ask what the "special" for the day was (they rotate things like gym, music and art), or I'll ask him who he played with at recess.
That last one is important to me. As a child with autism, interaction with his peers is a critical thing, and one he needs lots of practice at. His natural tendency is to not interact at all, so when I hear that he played pirates with Liam or house with Jamie or kicked a ball with Ryan, it makes my heart soar.
This school year, though, things have been different. Most days, the answer is "I just played by myself" accompanied by a shrug. It's a rare day when someone else is mentioned.
"Didn't you have a friend to play with?" I asked.
"I have friends." He replied.
"Who?" I persisted. "Who are your friends in class this year?"
"My class." He said.
"Yes, in your class. Who is your friend?"
"They're all my friends," he said, matter-of-factly, and then he went back to playing with his action figures in the corner of the family room. By himself.
His way of saying "No big deal, Mom. I'm fine."
He's fine, but I'm not, I guess. He's in third grade now, and instead of being "David, the funny kid who does silly stuff" like he was when he was younger, he's now on his way to becoming "David, the kid that I won't play with because the other guys will make fun of me." David doesn't want to talk about cool movies, or video games, or iPhones, or FaceBook. David wants to endlessly repeat dialogue from his favorite Disney Pixar movies. He wants to sing - a lot. He wants to run around and pretend he's fighting the White Witch in Narnia, while brandishing Harry Potter's wand. His friends, such as they are, are outgrowing him.
And while it's heartbreaking for me, I find myself absurdly grateful for his disability, because his autism leaves him perfectly happy to play by himself. He doesn't see himself as being abandoned, or ignored, or apart. He's just playing what he's playing and his friends aren't.
It's funny, but I always tell Anna not to be so dependent on what her friends are saying about her or doing and not doing with her. She needs to be more independent, I tell her, and not rely on them to define herself.
And yet, here's David doing just that, and it gives me a lump in my throat and makes tears sting my eyes.
I know, as always, that I just need to back off and let David unfold, with or without an audience. He's going to do what he's going to do, and his show will go on, even if there's no one to fill the seats.
It's not a bad life philosophy, when all is said and done.
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