We woke up to a dreary, damp day. Considering that a significant portion of our spring and summer have bestowed upon us above-average sunshine, this is an anomaly for us. Jake woke up “on the wrong side of the bed”. The weather was mirroring his mood. He was much more quiet and subdued this morning. He kept pestering Hubz about leaving for work. He kept asking me what our plan was for the day. He didn’t like my answer: first, breakfast, then Tate has therapy, then L and his brother are coming for a play date, then chill time, then tutoring with Ms. Tutor. Are you sure that’s what we’re doing today?! Yes, I was sure.
Jake avoided me for much of the morning. When he would talk to me, he’d ask, again, what I had planned for the day. I reiterated our plans. He wasn’t impressed. Our play date was scheduled for 10 am. I scheduled this play date with L, and his brother, E, a while back. L and Jake were in the same class for second grade. L has some developmental delays, and he and Jake went to speech together last year. They had a few play dates..and keep up well with each other. E is typically developing. He went to a different school for kindergarten, but will be new to the school this year for first grade. I figured that we could have Tate’s therapist facilitate the play date with Tate and E, and L and Jake could play. I had been telling the boys about the play date since last week, to get them prepared.
10:00 arrived, as did our play mates. Jake refused, REFUSED to move off of the couch. Tate was in the basement with his therapist. I came to the door to greet our guests. L and E bounced into the house. L immediately asked where Jake was. I told him, and off he went. E followed his brother. I called downstairs to Tate and his therapist, and they came up, too. This is where things went to crap.
Jake came into the kitchen and asked to play with my phone. I said no. He slunk back into the family room and watched tv while L and E and Tate played with Legos. Cole bounced between all of the older boys. I invited Jake to play Legos. He refused, rolling over on the couch to hide his face. I turned off the tv. Jake ran into the living room and began to have a complete, no-holds-barred tantrum. I was momentarily gobsmacked. (I threw that into this post as a homage to the conclusion of the Olympics…London, we’ll miss thee…)
I gathered myself and asked Jake to explain what the issue was. He couldn’t. He just kept tearing up and then shutting down. He was flailing, on the couch, and throwing things. I told him it was time to go to his room for some quiet time, mainly because I didn’t think he needed to be having his meltdown publicly. He stomped up the stairs. L made his way up to Jake’s room and was talking to him. Jake just laid on the bed, face down, and pounded the mattress, without even addressing his friend. I was mortified. I told Jake he had to at least acknowledge his friend. He muttered, “L, please leave me alone.” and rolled over. I asked L to come back downstairs to play.
So, E, L, and Tate played with Legos and shared our Nintendo DS while Jake calmed down upstairs. It took Jake about 7 more minutes to come back to us. Even then, he would momentarily disappear to other rooms. Thankfully, L & E’s mom is accustomed to social deficits and meltdowns. She didn’t take offense. Neither did her children, for which I am ever grateful. I am just absolutely beside myself. Jake has difficulty in social situations, I get that, but I had prepped him for this. I had talked about it. I gave some suggestions for activities. He has played with L before. He knows L. None of my usual prep worked, though, as Jake clearly was unable to handle this routine change today.
I imagine that the anxiety of back to school isn’t helping. I know that the reality of the tensions and social frustrations and difficulties with subject matter are surfacing. I know Jake wants this unstructured, I-can-escape-in-my-game-and/or-tv-show to continue forever. It’s all perception, I guess. To me, this was supposed to be enjoyable. An opportunity to have some fun with a friend. Instead, it caused Jake an incredible amount of stress and angst.
In the end, Jake and L bonded over a game on our tablet. Jake allowed L to “drive” and preferred to just watch and narrate…but they were connecting and interacting. L’s mom and I sighed in relief…we both want the boys to connect. To have another friend. To know they aren’t alone on that first day of third grade.
Sometimes it is so hard…because wishing it so doesn’t mean it will be so. For some of us with neurodiverse families, there is a lot of blood, sweat, and tears behind those moments of friendship, connection and play time.