The Play Date

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

And because we’re all on a school break now, Danny’s mom and I arranged to get the boys together for a play date at a local McDonald’s.

We planned it for right after Ane and Tad’s dental appointment – I knew it would give Tad a little motivation to be patient at the dentist’s office (it sort of did), and I knew the kids would be hungry.  Rerun, who did not have a dental appointment, stayed with Grandma for lunch and a nap.  I did have to take Ane along, which wasn’t entirely ideal, but I knew that Danny would have his younger (and neurotypical) brother John with him, so it wouldn’t be as if she was the odd man out.

Danny immediately hugged Tad the second he saw him, and the two boys seemed to take real joy in just being together.  The play date ended up being really long – over three hours at McDonald’s! – but I had a good chat with Danny’s mom Annie, and I made a few interesting observations about Tad’s interactions with Danny.

– Danny, who is not autistic (he is deaf with cochlear implants, and developmentally delayed), is much more interactive with Tad than Tad is with Danny.  Danny wanted to play with Tad; Tad was just as happy knowing that Danny was nearby, but often was happy wandering off on his own.  It seemed to me that he was trying to give himself some breathing room, and with all the excitement of the play area at McDonald’s, he had enough opportunity to give himself a break to decompress every now and then.

– Having Ane there was not the best thing for Tad.  He is used to playing with her, and being presented with another playmate was a little confusing for him.  But he’s also used to lashing out at Ane – at one point, he kicked her in the knee.  He got a time-out immediately, and I asked Ane to just read the book she had brought for a while, so that once Tad was off his time-out, he and Danny could have their space.  But this confused Tad, and when he saw that Ane wasn’t getting back up to play, he refused to go play himself.  I think he thought she was in trouble, and he refused to walk away from her.  When I finally realized that having Ane sit out meant that Tad wasn’t going to play, I told her to put the book down and go play.  Instantly, Tad was willing to play again.  If Ane hadn’t been there, this wouldn’t have been an issue.

– Tad is getting very good at managing his sensory overload moments.  There were plenty of times where he came up to ask for a “squish” – meaning he needed some heavy pressure to calm him down.  When he asks for a squish, I usually rub his shoulders.  I swear that I can feel the tension instantly ebb out of him.  He usually lets out a giant sigh.  I am so proud of his ability to recognize that he’s reached a tipping point, and can make the effort to regroup with my help (or his Dad’s, or Grandma’s).

McDonald’s was pretty crowded when we arrived, and still pretty full when we turned the kids loose after eating.  It thinned out significantly over the three hours that we were there, and not all the kids were very nice.  Still, there were only a couple incidents, and the worst one was the Tad-kicking-Ane moment.

When we finally looked at our watches and saw that it was starting to get dark, we finally dragged the kids out of there.  Danny insisted on holding Tad’s hand as they walked us to our van.  As we got in and they walked away, Tad began to tear up.  There was a look of such profound sadness on his face that my heart broke.  I pointed it out to Annie, and we both reassured Tad that there would be more play dates in the future.  It didn’t help.  By the time we buckled up and drove away, Tad was crying, with big tears rolling down his cheeks.

If I ever doubted Tad’s attachment to Danny, it is no longer in question.  He loves his best friend, and I am so glad that they have each other.

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