Snow Play and Friendship for an Autistic Boy…

Yesterday, the Met Office issued an amber weather warning for snow for Aberdeen and the surrounding area. At work, we were advised to take our laptops and any files we needed home with us – we work from home one day a week – in the event the weather was bad. I’ve taken advantage of that, so am at home. It lets me get an early start and I can avoid all the distractions that come with being in the office.

Turned out the weather south of Aberdeen isn’t so bad, although 102 Aberdeenshire schools are closed, or partially closed. There are reports of blizzard conditions elsewhere too, so we’re not avoiding it entirely. When it started snowing last night, the boys were hopeful of a day off, but Matthew was disappointed this morning when I told him the school was open. We live in a reasonably built up area right by the sea, so really big snowfalls are fairly rare. So it was off to school with them.

What was interesting though, was watching Matthew in the playground. His autism limits his understanding of friendships, how you make them, and what is involved in maintaining them. He will often say that if he and another child exchange names, they are friends. We all know that’s not how it works, but not Matthew. It could give another child who isn’t interested in being friends with him a great power over Matthew. Matthew will trust that child who believes is his friend. Even being bullied in class doesn’t teach him to be wary of others, nor does it teach him not to take things at face value – because his brain won’t let him make that judgement. Everything is as it seems to him.

Watching him this morning though reminded me of that. He plays with other boys simply because he sees it as the thing to do, not out of any bonds of friendship. Sometimes in play, he will become an easy target for boys that aren’t interested in being friends with him, someone to pick on. He’s tried to join in games of football before, with that just ending up with boys kicking the ball at him, not to him. He’s unable to mentally protect himself in the chaos of the playground, and that makes him very vulnerable.

Today though, he was running around in the snow in the playground, throwing snow at other boys. He looked happy at being part of the group, but you could see that with the boys that weren’t in his class, he was very much on the outside. He isn’t able to think if throwing snow at someone from point blank range is the right thing to do or not. Sometimes its taken in jest, sometimes its not. Matthew’s problem is he lacks the judgement that would enable him to join in and be part of the group.

Still, it was lovely to see him playing with others – a few of his classmates were there, and they seems to have taken to him, so it was genuine play with some of them, but overall, it was a reminder that some could use his vulnerability to make him a target.

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