Friendship is something that many ASD children find difficult to understand. The process of forming lasting bonds with others is a process that they find a mystery, and Matthew is no different to that. Matthew gave me the inspiration for today’s post when I was talking to him last night about his day at school and I asked him who he played with during break times. “No one” came the reply. This isn’t unusual from Matthew. On occasions where we’ve been round by the school at lunchtimes taking Daniel back to school where he’s had a home lunch, Matthew will be by himself. He makes no attempt to join in with the play of his peers.
What is more concerning though was the response I got when I asked him who he was friends with in his class. Again it was a negative response. I think a part of it is a trust issue with his peers after being on the receiving end from the class bully in P3, which ended up with Matthew being branded the aggressor when he eventually snapped and belted the bully. After being the victim, it was Matthew in the wrong, and Matthew who had to be moved out of the class. So if would be understandable for Matthew to think he can trust no one. The trouble with Matthew and ASD children in general is that they find it difficult to read social signals given out by others. Because Matthew is generally quiet and sensitive, I think he draws others to him. Several of the girls he’s encountered in class have a lot of time for him, but he’s unable to determine that they are being genuine in their attempts to befriend him, but crucially he’s unaware of the nuances of creating a long term bond. If someone makes friendship overtures towards us, and we like them, we are able to respond to that and create a bond. Matthew can’t. In four and a half years of being at school (including nursery) he hasn’t really bonded with any of his peers.
A lot of that has to do with the school policy of rotating the make up of classes from year to year. Now, the thinking behind that is to help kids make a wide circle of friends. For children who easily understand the friendship game, they are able to retain previously formed friendships while making new ones. This policy has been a disaster for Matthew. He may form a temporary bond with someone before the classes are changed and he’s back to square one. To him, a person he knows should be in the same place – which is why he ignores classmates that are seen outside the school setting. So, take a person he is getting to know out of the class he is in, and they are outside of his daily experiences, and any budding friendship is discarded by Matthew.
We’ve asked at review meetings that Matthew has familiar faces retained when he moves class, and I’m beginning to wonder if its understood that he isn’t like other children, and changing the faces he’s familiar with is a disaster for him. People he’s familiar with are taken away from him. I think that eventually others may tire of Matthew not reciprocating offers of friendship and move on to the new bonds they’ve made. In the end, Matthew is left on his own. While he is getting better educational support this year, he’s not getting support from friends that most of us experience on a daily basis. If, as Daniel has found out this last few weeks, he had friends he could rely on then perhaps they could have supported him through the tough time he went through in P3.
School is a part of our lives where make life-long bonds. Our lives post-education often make it difficult to make lasting bonds and often we don’t really want to. We’ve got our circle of friends and are happy to make do with that. But Matthew is halfway through primary school, and he has made no lasting friendships. He hasn’t had anyone round to the house for a couple of years, and it must be that at least when he last visited the house of a classmate. He isn’t often invited to birthday parties either. As a result, his support network is being severely limited and he is suffering as a result. Sometimes its not easy to go to an adult with our problems when we’re at school as more often its our friends that really understand. That’s not being addressed, and Matthew is being failed socially. It does make me wonder if mainstream education is for him in a social sense. That he’s achieving as much as he is says a lot for him, but he’s seeing more of the SEN teacher, who is excellent for him.
But mainstream or not, friendship is a minefield for the ASD child. Matthew is none-the-wiser with how to proceed, and while yesterday’s chat with him was no surprise, its sad that a little lad is drifting along without the strength friendship gives us all.