When you have an autistic child, you try your hardest to socialize him. Autistic children have difficulty with being social and understanding even the simplest things such as carrying on a conversation.
For this reason, psychological and educational organizations have developed what’s known as the “social group.” This is a group activity where autistic kids can essentially “meet and greet” and work on things such as talking to each other, empathizing with each other and simply enjoying each other’s company.
In my son Tommy’s 11 years, he’s been told he’s not “group ready” many times. And at one point, after I did get him accepted into a group, the powers that be wanted to kick him out. One of the big issues of that particular group was that he was afraid to go into the room in which it was held. He had separation anxiety. And then, once he got into the room, he just wasn’t cooperating with the process.
I told the psychologist who ran the group to please just work with him until the group ended. She did, and he completed the session.
Flash forward a year and a half. Tommy had matured, and my husband and I wanted to try out another social group. I called the psychologist who had wanted to kick him out before and asked her if she was game with the idea of working with him again. I told her how much he’d grown up. To our delight, she said “yes.”
Well, this year’s social group has been a total success. Tommy, according to the psychologist, is a wonderful listener, a good friend, a funny joke teller. Quite simply, he’s the star of the show. The psychologist even gave him the job of greeting all the participants in the beginning of each session.
All the kids seem to like him and want to be around him. In a nutshell, Tommy has found a way to make himself lovable. This is quite a change from his old, antisocial personality which most children didn’t take to.
I really knew things were going well when I saw what happened at bowling last week. Part of the social group experience is going out into the community and doing things like going to restaurants and doing fun activities such as putt-putt golf and bowling.
Tommy put on his bowling shoes, participated beautifully in the turn-taking process of the game, applauded his fellow players when they were successful and even managed to bowl a 105.
But it was what happened after bowling that was so amazing.
Tommy wanted to play the games in the bowling alley arcade. I told him he could and that he could spend five of his own dollars. He played several games, collecting the little tickets that came out of the various machines. The tickets could be used to purchase trinkets and candy in a little arcade shop.
But over there, in the corner, a commotion was occurring. Two boys were shouting.
“We did it.”
“We won 1000 tickets!”
We went over to see what was happening.
Yes indeed, the boys had hit the jackpot on a ticket machine. Hundreds of little blue tickets were pouring out of the machine and pooling all over the floor. The boys were trying their hardest to collect them into manageable stacks.
“We won,” Cooper said.
“Oh my gosh, I’ve never seen so many tickets,” I said.
“That’s a lot of tickets,” said Tommy.
We walked over to the machine that counts the tickets. Tommy loaded his meager stash. Turns out, he only had 59.
We approached the trinket counter. Unfortunately, Tommy could only afford to buy two pieces of candy or two cheap, plastic, hot pink spider rings.
He was disappointed.
Then, he saw it. A stuffed, yellow bowling pin complete with smiley face. It was the perfect plush toy.
“It looks like a banana!” Tommy shouted. Tommy collects stuffed bananas. “Mommy, I want this.”
Just then, Cooper and his brother, who’d just come from the ticket counter, approached us.
We watched as they purchased a crystal chess set. That cost them 500 tickets. They had 500 left.
“You only have 59 tickets,” I told Tommy. “That bowling pin costs 400 tickets.”
“But, Mommy, I want it.”
“Well, we’ll look on Ebay and see if we can find one like it, and you can buy it with your own money. Come on, we’ve got to go, so we can go home and make Daddy dinner.”
Now, we were making a commotion. How was I going to get this kid out of this bowling alley? He was approaching tantrum mode. And I was ready to cry.
“Mommy, we have to get this plush toy,” Tommy said.
I could see Cooper looking at his brother Joe. I could see them smiling at each other. And then, I could see the future. They were going to give Tommy the tickets to buy this stupid bowling pin. I began to cry.
“Mommy, why are you crying?”
“The boys are going to do something very nice for you,” I said through my tears.
Cooper and his brother bought Tommy the toy.
I felt it was the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
Tommy had been given a gift, but the universe had also given me a gift. My child had friends.