Difficult Come, Easy Go

Two years ago, I wrote my only post ever titled in all-caps: “MARTIN MADE FRIENDS.” I described how Martin finally managed to make friends in a scenario not arranged by adults: He rode his bicycle across the street to play with the twin girls who live there. I also admitted that the friend-making appeared limited to the specific situation—the same week, Martin bombed a play date and failed to speak to another neighbor girl. I predicted that making friends might be one of those skills that pops up, disappears, and then reemerges to stay.

The friendship with our twin neighbors faded, once other kids got involved. That fall, Martin transferred to the same school as those girls, and they joined the school-bus bullying fiasco. Martin tried sometimes to make friends at recess, but his classmates rejected him, and we were left with only playmates from his social-skills group and former special-education school.

Twenty-four (long) months later, fledgling friend-making is back. A month or two ago, as Martin and I were walking to the car at afternoon school pick-up, a boy ran up and said, “’Bye, Martin! See you tomorrow.” Martin replied, evenly, “’Bye, Manuel.”

“Martin,” I asked in the car, “who was that boy?”

“That’s my friend Manuel. He just moved here from Texas.”

“Is he in your class?”

“No, I met him at recess.” Martin said this matter-of-factly, as if he were constantly making new friends on the playground.

I asked Martin whether he’d like to invite Manuel for a play date. He replied that he would.

The next afternoon, I introduced myself to Manuel’s grandmother, who picks him up from school because his mother works. The grandmother said, “Oh, you’re Martin’s mom! Manuel talks about Martin. Let’s get them together.” We arranged a drop-off play date, at our house. The play date lasted two hours, which is a long time for Martin to hold it together and pay attention to another kid, but he managed, and the affair went pretty well (some bumps, resolved with agreement to watch a spooky video together). Thereafter, Martin reported playing with Manuel at recess several times. Once he said, sadly, that Manuel had decided to play soccer with some other boys instead. I suggested that Martin consider asking to play soccer too, but he said he was sure Manuel and other boys would say he couldn’t play. The next day, however, Martin announced that he indeed asked to play soccer, and that the boys had said yes, and that he had played soccer. I was overjoyed.

Most recently, Martin invited Manuel to “bring a friend” day at his taekwondo school. I consider this Martin’s first self-generated, sustained friendship. Manuel is a cheerful and polite boy, slightly clumsy and overweight, in a mainstream classroom and receiving limited (very limited, by our standards) special-education services. I don’t envision him and Martin ever becoming the coolest kids on the playground. That’s fine by me. Adrian and I were hardly cool kids, either.

Martin plays Minecraft on his iPad. Back in February, he asked me to buy him a particular Minecraft book he’d seen two classmates reading. I did so gladly, because Martin hates reading, and I’m happy for anything that gets him looking at words. Then Martin asked for a plush Minecraft zombie, and then for a plush Minecraft baby zombie. I hesitated, as Martin is nine years old and doesn’t need any more stuffed animals, but relented on the basis that the Minecraft theme might be a way to connect with other kids. I made the right choice: Martin’s teacher and behaviorist both said that a couple boys from class asked Martin to play with his zombies, and subsequently that the three of them were sitting together talking Minecraft at lunch and snack time. Martin himself said, excitedly, that he’d played “zombie chase” at recess with his “friends.” His request for the plush toys appears to have been calculated, for the purpose of attracting positive attention. Good work.

Martin also has reported that playing more with Lucas. Martin has known Lucas since fall 2016, when they shared a desk, and we’ve attempted play dates with him before, without too much success. Now Martin says the two of them have invented a game that involves hanging upside-down on the playground slide and yelling, “Help me!” (Um, okay . . . .)

In sum, over the last couple months, Martin has cultivated a playground repertoire. He plays with Manuel, he engages in Minecraft-related activities with classmates, or he hangs out on the climbing equipment with Lucas. When none of those options is available, Martin says, he sits and reads a Minecraft book. Last year he spent virtually every recess alone on the swings. The swings have been removed due to ongoing construction at Martin’s school. I was scared of what that removal could mean for recess, but he seems to be weathering the storm. He’s made a few friends.

And now—just a few months after moving here, Manuel’s family has decided to leave. The cost-of-living in our area is too high, Manuel’s mother says, and they aren’t able to make ends meet.

Martin is losing his first real, independently found friend. He’s crushed.

So are we. Adrian asked me, “Could we lend them money? Help pay for their apartment? Anything?” He wasn’t serious, of course. We can’t go around sponsoring families to make sure Martin has friends.

Even if we might do just about anything else.


As an undergraduate I studied journalism. We weren’t allowed to use quotes in headlines; the rule was, “When the Pope says, ‘F**k,’ you can quote it in a headline.”

There must be some similar rule for all-capital blog headers. You come to my blog expecting a certain consistency: photos that conceal Martin’s identity, headers in initial-capitals only, maybe some italics but nothing fancy. If I start getting all wacky—curly q’s or design changes, exclamation points, politics, profanity, bold, all-caps—I risk the impression of level-headedness I try to maintain, right? Finding My Kid relies on words and the power of Martin’s journey, not typographic tricks.

Except today. I don’t have words big enough to express what Martin has done, so—

Welcome to the first time Finding My Kid is shouting a header at you:


We’ve lived in our suburban house for almost three years. The yards in our enclave are large, so although we have neighbors, they are not bumped up against us. We know the neighbors, as in, we know who they are. The teenager next door babysits for Martin. We wave at the others, chat occasionally in the street. (You caught us: Adrian and I are hardly social butterflies.) Martin, however, has never shown any particular interest in children who live around our dead end.

What I’m about to relay is second-hand, as told to me by Martin’s nanny, Samara. I can attest that Samara is guileless in her storytelling, a real just-the-facts-ma’am operative. I work in the City Wednesdays and Thursday, so Martin is with Samara. Last Wednesday, by her account, Martin asked to ride his bicycle after school. She agreed and told him to stay close to the house. He announced that he was riding to the neighbors’ house. Samara, who could hear the neighbors’ six-year-old twin girls (Martin is seven) playing in their yard, asked Martin to wait. Instead, he looked directly and mischievously at her, smiled, and raced across the street to the neighbors’ driveway. By the time Samara caught up, Martin was talking to the girls. He’d met these twins once before, when we participated in a volunteer project at their home. He did not manage, that time, to speak with them.

Samara checked with the twins’ babysitter, who said it was fine for Martin to play in their yard. Samara then returned to our house, within eyesight, to start making dinner. After ten minutes or so, she realized that Martin had disappeared into the girls’ house. She waited a while and then walked back across the street. The girls had other friends over, pre-arranged, and while one sister was playing with them, the other sister was playing with Martin. He stayed another 45 minutes or so. When he returned home, he was proudly carrying a knotted keychain the twin had made for him.

Thursday after school, Martin got off the school bus and asked to ride his bicycle. He rode directly to the neighbors’ house, and upon seeing Martin in their driveway, the twins came out to greet him. Samara again checked with the twins’ babysitter, who again gave permission for Martin to stay and play. The three kids ran around together in the yard for 30 or 40 minutes, until the girls had to go inside to work on their homework. Martin rode back home. To Samara’s surprise, after half an hour, the twins (homework apparently finished) arrived with their babysitter and asked to play some more with Martin.

Meanwhile, from my office in the City, unaware of these Thursday activities, I emailed the girls’ mother to thank her for hosting Martin Wednesday afternoon. She emailed back to say Martin had been a pleasure, that she was thrilled the kids were playing together, and that her daughters were at my house at that very moment.

According to Samara, the girls left our house around dinnertime, and asked if they could return on Friday. Martin has trombone lessons and a social-skills play group on Friday afternoons, so that wasn’t possible; Samara plans to arrange a visit this week instead.

Friday morning, Martin told me he was taking the knotted keychain to school. He wanted to show it to his classmates and tell them about his new friends.

When Martin was still acquiring language, sometimes he would use a phrase or idiom correctly, one time, and then those words would disappear, only to reemerge later with consistency; for example, he once answered a question with “I don’t know” but didn’t say “I don’t know” without prompting again for months.

On Sunday, four days after Martin made his twin friends, his class had a play date. Half a dozen boys showed up to run around a playground. Martin joined their chasing and pushing for a few minutes, then chose to climb by himself. I think he still gets overwhelmed in a crowd, even a small crowd of his own classmates. Later the same afternoon, back home, Martin saw a girl his age, a stranger, riding her bicycle in the street. Immediately, he asked to go ride his bicycle. Adrian, who went outside to supervise, reports that Martin was clearly interested in the girl but couldn’t bring himself to speak to her; even when Adrian and the girl’s father tried to introduce the two of them, Martin hung his head and looked away.

Martin has friends, arranged by me, with whom he plays regularly. Meeting the twins across the street, by contrast, marks the first time Martin has made friends. Based on the experiences Sunday afternoon, I would say that making friends is like saying “I don’t know” once was: Martin showed that he has the skill, and now the skill will disappear for a while before reemerging with consistency.

He just needs to gain some confidence and remember to use the skill he evidently now has.



This picture is not (completely) related to this post. But I am so excited that our cherry blossoms are starting to pop, and since we walk by this tree on our way to our neighbors’ house, I’m using that as an excuse to include the picture.


I am at the music school, waiting for Martin to emerge from his piano lesson. He gets a private lesson, with a patient instructor who lets Martin move at his own speed, which pretty much amounts to lazy Martin doing not much at all. This waiting room is full of children, coming out of lessons, going in to lessons. The children are noisy. They are chasing each other and playing. Some girls are standing in a little group talking so no one else can hear. And the parents, mostly moms, are talking, too. They’re talking about the music lessons, but also about the elementary school, an upcoming birthday party, and some dispute about electric lines here in town.

As you can tell, I’m not joining in. I’m writing. I enjoy talking to other people, but what do I have in common with these moms? Martin doesn’t go the elementary school here. He doesn’t run with these typically developing kids, isn’t invited to their birthday parties. (Don’t feel bad; Martin goes to plenty of birthday parties. He has two this weekend.) When Martin is done with his lesson, he won’t show interest in these kids. He’ll come only to me. We’ll be the two of us, the Martin-and-Mommy unit.

How much time to I spend self-segregating? I’ve never been a “social” person, never felt like I fit right in. Not anywhere. So I have to ask myself: To what extent does having a child with autism give me an excuse not even to try, an excuse to say, gosh, it would be easy to have a typical child? Then I would talk to the other mothers and make plans. Then I would integrate myself. Then I would be a completely different person from who I actually am, and pretty much always have been.

When Martin was a baby, or a pre-diagnosis toddler, I disliked taking him to the playground. In my experience, the playground had two distinct groups: the mommy group, and the nanny group. Even the children split into these groups: The children who came with their mothers played together while their mothers chatted, and the children who came with their nannies played together while their nannies chatted. And I sat alone, while Martin played alone. I didn’t fit with the nannies. I felt like I didn’t fit with the mommies because they were full-time parents who all seemed to know each other so well. How ever would I break into that group? With one child, many work hours, and a nanny on the payroll, I hardly even felt, at the time, like a mom. I couldn’t sidle into a group of mom pros.

To that extent, my parenting life has constituted a continuous stream of self-segregation. I’ve looked for excuses not to fit in, and I’ve found them.

These days, there is an exception to that trend: among fellow special-needs parents. At Martin’s school, or his play group, at Autism One, during meetings of the special-education association, in on-line recovery discussion groups, I do okay. I feel like a mom, like the other moms, and I’m comfortable. I even introduce myself to strangers and, occasionally, make plans.

Martin’s autism has a dual effect. First, it’s the latest of my reasons I’m not like other moms (which follow my reasons I’m not like other lawyers, and not like other writers, and not like other students, all of which add up to the fact that I’ve never enjoyed going to parties). Second, it’s allowed me to let down my defenses for a change and be just like everyone else.

At least, everyone else who happens to have a special-needs child and involve herself in the same activities I do.

Martin and friend, checking out an art exhibit. He does have friends. Maybe he's better at it than I am.

Martin and friend, checking out an art exhibit. He does have friends. Maybe he’s better at it than I am.