The Best Friend

For a long time, I despaired of Tad ever having a friend outside of his sister.

And even that’s not the same thing.  Ane is his friend and playmate, but that’s because she IS his sister and lives with him.  But when she has a friend over, Tad is not generally allowed to be a part of their play.  In fact, one of my saddest memories from this last summer was Tad crying his eyes out when Ane and Little Mo were tired of him bugging them, so they went inside to Ane’s room and shut the door.  He was so distraught, he sat on the back porch and sobbed, “Somebody – anybody – play with me!”

It broke my heart.  I did manage to convince the girls to come back out and give him another chance, but it birthed a prayer in my heart:
Lord, please send Tad a friend.  Someone he wants to play with.  Someone who wants to play with him.

The cry of his heart – which he could only express out of his loneliness at that moment, and never repeated again – became my prayer for him.  Send him a friend.  Help him find a friend.

It’s hard to express what an autistic child has to go through to find a friend.  Think about how we develop friendships, and all the social and emotional development that goes into a close relationship.  To ask many autistic people to make those kind of connections is like asking you to flap your arms and fly.  Their brains are simply not wired to process the emotions of others in the way that you can.  And if they do, it can be in a more detached sense and not have a lot of empathy.  We are extremely fortunate that Tad has demonstrated a capacity for empathy, but he can’t consistently apply it.  While he can respond to my emotional states with concern, he can also care less that shoving Rerun over has caused him to cry.  Part of that is sibling rivalry, but part of it is also him.

Then how on earth do you find a friend?

I prayed.  And I prayed.  And I prayed.

But within the circle of kids that we know, there was no deep attachment forming, or a desire to play with any other child – and no child was showing a marked interest in playing with Tad (aside from Rupert, bless his heart, but he’s 2 and a half, so the age gap is a little steep).

And I kept praying.

A few weeks after school started, once we had our routine started of me picking up Tad at school on Mondays and Fridays (Mondays for swimming lessons and speech therapy, Fridays for ABA sessions), his teacher pulled me aside and asked, “Is it all right with you if I give your phone number and email address to Danny’s mother?  Tad and Danny are playing so well together and I really think they should see each other outside of school.”

My heart leapt, and I instantly agreed.

I finally met Danny’s parents at the open house curriculum night, and got to meet Danny himself.  He is a second-grader, almost two years older than Tad, has cochlear implants and some developmental delays.  His mom and I chatted, and she told me how they hear about Tad at home.  While Tad is not much of a talker about school, unless we pry it out of him, I knew that Danny was important to him, because he calls him “my Danny” at home.  Over the last couple of months, I’ve seen the boys interact with each other at the end of the school day, and at their class Halloween party.  The paras tell me that they pair off in class and at recess, and I think part of Tad’s improved behavior at recess is due to the fact that he finally has someone to play with consistently.  Danny’s mom and I are trying to arrange a play date for the boys over email, too.

Last Friday, I picked Tad up from school as usual, but Danny’s dad was picking him up at the same time, too, because of the half-day schedule.  We walked out of the front doors together, the boys walking side-by-side – until they stopped for a bear hug in the middle of a hallway.  Tad looked straight at Danny and said, “Danny, I love you.  You’re my best friend.”

My eyes filled with tears as Danny hugged Tad yet again.

I managed to keep it together until we were in the car, and then I started to cry for joy.  My prayer has been answered.  Tad has a friend.

Tad saw me crying and said, “Mama, you sad?  You okay?”

“Mama is so, so happy, Tad.”

6 Responses to “The Best Friend”

  1. Nana
    November 23rd, 2011 07:25

    A true Thanksgiving story! Pass the Kleenex.

  2. Ressis
    November 23rd, 2011 08:35

    I’m so happy for Tad. He deserves a good friend.

  3. Friend
    November 24th, 2011 20:29

    So sweet! I’m so happy for him! 🙂

  4. Aunt Mary
    November 27th, 2011 22:49

    What a sweet, sweet story. I have happy tears for both of you.

  5. Deanna's Corner » Blog Archive » The Play Date
    December 21st, 2011 00:18

    […] I’ve written about previously, Tad has a best friend named Danny.  They are in the same class at […]

  6. Deanna's Corner » Blog Archive » Seven Years Old
    August 12th, 2012 20:37

    […] we will do our utmost to make this year as successful as last year.  I feel badly about leaving your best friend Danny behind, especially after you’ve made all this effort to make a friend.  I hope you can make […]