Monday, September 27, 2010

Child's Play (3/5/10)

I remember going to the park as a child – walking up to another kid and just asking “Hey, wanna play?” and off we would go. Instant friend, it was that easy. It’s probably one of the things that adults envy about childhood – the ease and simplicity of friendship, of playing without a care in the world. It seems so basic, so natural. At least to some.

I watch Norrin in the park. From afar, he looks like every other kid – running, laughing, playing. I watch as children try to include him and I try to be his voice – the mediator, even though he sees right through them - completely unaware that these kids want his attention. I watch as they quickly lose interest in him and I try not to let it bother me. Because I realize that maybe it doesn’t bother Norrin, the way that it bothers me. Maybe bother is the wrong word - hurt. It hurts to see children walk away from Norrin because they don't understand him. It hurts because I feel like maybe he's missing out on something special. That he's being cheated out of the joy of just being a kid.

On days that I go to Norrin’s school, I watch as he points to each picture on the wall and listen as he tells me the names of his little classmates – yet he does not bother to play with them or look in their direction. They are just pictures on the wall to him. His teachers say it’s his socialization that’s holding him back. And I can’t help but wonder – how do you teach socialization? How do you expect children to socialize with children who don’t want to socialize?

At the sensory gym – I watch as Norrin enters the room. He acknowledges the OT by name. She prompts him to say hi to Nick (the other little boy in the room) and he does. Norrin likes Nick and Nick likes Norrin. yet neither boy makes eye contact even though the two therapists in the room try to get them to interact with the other.

I sign Norrin up for a Social Playgroup – they meet on Sundays for about 2 hours for the next 16 weeks. I watch through the glass wall as the therapists teach them to play group activities – like tag and soccer. (It seems strange doesn’t it - teaching a child how to play.) The therapists prompt the children to cheer and clap for each other. And I find myself cheering along with them even though I know they can’t hear me. I watch as one therapist jumps up and says "come catch me" as she runs around in a circle. All the children stare blankly at her, including Norrin, until another therapist prompts the kids to get up and run. At the end of each activity they organize the children in a circle – use hand over hand to put their hands together to say “Yay team!” It’s cute, but Norrin doesn’t look that interested. I look at the other kids – none of them seem interested either. I look at the other parents, who are watching their kids with eager anticipation. I know what they are thinking because I am thinking it to. We are all waiting for the same thing.

Birthday parties are the hardest; the most recent one, at a My Gym. All the children know each from school or the neighborhood, Norrin is the only unfamiliar child. He is scared at first, but after a few minutes he is running around like every other kid. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice the mothers who are able to just sit back and gossip while their kids play. I roll up my sleeves, pull back my hair and run around after Norrin - helping him with the party activities. He likes the ball pit best. I stand by and watch as he plays happily by himself, even though there are 5 other kids in the ball pit with him - all laughing and playing. Norrin sees right through them, as if they aren't even there.

I try very hard not to think about the future, I think of how far he has come in the last two years and I tell myself that it may not always be like this. That one day, he will know how to play with other kids. That he won't always need me to be at his side. That one day, when a kid at the park or at school asks him a question, that Norrin will know how to respond appropriately. He doesn’t need to be the “popular kid,” I just want him to be able to have one friend – if, of course, that is what he wants.

The other day while getting Norrin ready for school he says, “Go see Adrian-na-na-na-na.” I correct him and prompt him to say his cousin’s name properly. Norrin and Adriana are the same age, born a week apart.

Although the same age, Adriana
and Norrin don’t like playing the same games and as a “typically” developing child, April is much more advanced than Norrin. After five minutes of playing, Norrin usually goes off to do his own thing and I have to redirect him. Aside from watching catching, they have one common interest: play-doh. But even though the kids sit at the same table – Norrin hardly looks at Adriana. And Adriana tries very hard to get Norrin's attention.  

Though hearing Norrin specifically ask for Adriana, makes me happy. And he asks for her often.  It assures me that he does see us, that he does want some kind of social interaction – that the people in his life are not just objects or pictures on a wall to him. All those moments of watching him at the playground, at school, at the sensory gym or the playgroup – it happened when I really wasn’t watching. All I have to do is listen.


  1. Touching, and true - that last bit.

    Beautiful children. Barbara

  2. Hi Lisa. Thank you for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment. I enjoyed reading your post very much. You really captured the feelings so many of have. Just know that you are not alone in this. Hang in there!

    - Yuji


AutismWonderland - written by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez - is a personal blog chronicling a NYC family's journey with autism, while also sharing local resources for children/families with special needs.