Scenes from a Play Date

I wish that I were the type of mother who came by her mothering skills naturally, who knew instinctively what normal looks like and did not always wonder, when faced with one of her children’s many quirks: Is that the autism or is that just quirky? Does quirky = autism?

Well, take today — Sam was invited to a classmate’s house for a play date. Because the other mom and I don’t know each other very well, she invites me to join them once John gets home from school. Lovely of her. She is very nice and I am happy to get to know someone who has been nothing but warm to me, especially since we just met the week before at soccer.

John gets home, I grab his itouch and we start loading into the car. John is excited and says, “Sam school?” I tell him, no, we’re going to get Sam at a friend’s house. As soon as we arrive, John rushes by the other mom and heads upstairs. I have no idea why — he’s never been here, but the mom waves him up, saying that there’s nothing he can get into there. I’m reluctant to have him out of sight, but now Sam runs up to me dressed up as a Ninja Turtle. His little friend is behind him, dressed as a boxer, and looking a tad impatient.

I take in the scene. This little boy seems a lot more mature than Sam and I’m sensing the play date isn’t going that great. That’s okay, right? Not every play date is going to be terrific, but it looks like at least they both wanted to play dress-up. The other mom says something to her son and he and Sam turn and head back downstairs. She beckons me towards the kitchen and offers me a drink. We trade chit-chat — she’s a school counselor I had no idea, she knows someone I know…

And she IS lovely, this is lovely — the idea that I’m the type of mother who gets to have coffee with another mom because our kids are having a play date. But it’s a sham because I am not able to relax. There’s one boy above me and one below. Who knows what John is getting into. And Sam’s face? It looked a little lost and confused even if determined. He can be persistent when trying to play. So I say, “I’m just going to check on John,” and excuse myself.

Upstairs, I find him splayed on the older sister’s bed. The older sister is, of course, also there and looks a little aghast at the sight of him there atop her many pink pillows. “Oooohh boy,” I say, forcing a smile, “sorry he stormed into your room, what a surprise that must have been!” and I scoop him up.

Downstairs, I give John his itouch, hoping it will keep him grounded, and I rejoin the other mom. Her son joins us with a sigh. I ask him where Sam is. At that moment Sam comes yelling up the stairs: “IT’S POOPY TIME! IT’S POOPY TIME!” and heads towards the bathroom. I’m sure my face is red. The other mom says “It’s movie time?” I say no and suddenly I see she gets it.

Even though I know it’s coming, I pray it’s not.


So let me ask you. Is this behavior, Sam’s that is:
a) typical 5-year-old acting out?
b) attributable to being on the spectrum?
c) bad parenting?

I’m thinking maybe c? — have got to teach that boy to wipe his own butt.


Leave a comment
  • Butt wiping took a long time around here too. I’m always nervous when my kids are out of sight, especially at other people’s houses.

    You should rest assured though, that even with perfectly typical children, playdates are often difficult. I had one of those today with my kids and a couple of other kids.

  • Not option C, by a long shot! I have spent many hours talking to Secondo’s psychiatrist about how I worry about knowing what is quirky, and what is autism. Sometimes I feel like I totally get it, but often I just have no clue.

    And hanging out with their “typical” peers can totally stress me out. I’m trying really hard to chill out about the whole thing, but it sure isn’t easy!

  • It is hard to know what is a quirk and what is typical 5 year old behavior. I would say that the needing help to wipe is typical of a 5 year old. But it may be that the autism makes it hard for him to get the social appropriateness of not shouting this out at a friend’s house. But luckily, he has come so far so fast and he will get it. Social stories are great to help with a kid who needs to get some things like this, I think.

    As for the play date sham. I’ve been there. Trying to act like everything is fine while Andrew is upstairs getting into god knows what. Faking the conversation while all the while you just want to run up the stairs to check on him.

    I’ll share this. Brian had a friend over today, and I only had to intercept a naked boy running through the room where Brian and his friend were playing once. That is improvement from the last play date.

    Sorry this is so hard sometimes. I know how you feel. I get it. But don’t let these little teachable moments get you down. Both Sam and John are doing so great!!!

  • A friend, who is also a teacher, once told me that there is a 36 month range in development for children (typical kids, that is) at any given age. So at five kids have a range of development a year and half both ways. I always remind myself of that with both kids and it helps me keep things in perspective.

  • You know what? Good for you for going to the playdate; for not assuming it was out of your children’s reach. My nearly 5-year-old completely NT daughter still needs help with butt wiping, and she wouldn’t think twice about shouting it to me ANYWHERE.

    My suggestion? Enjoy the coffee more next time. 🙂


  • It’s unanimous — so NOT option C.

    I’m going to go into a little detail here b/c my son is a lot like Sam, in the NT world and heading for poss. losing his diagnosis as well , very verbal and social but still with some issues. We are in the same play-date evolution.

    Always follow your instincts — if you want to go upstairs and check on John, do it. That mom has NT kids, so her wave of the hand means nothing because she simply has a different set of experiences. Also, I’ve found that MY attitude can totally ease the situation. If Ike hollers for help, I yell back “GREAT JOB ASKING FOR HELP, BUDDY! I’LL BE RIGHT THERE!” Your normal, IS normal. Be YOUR normal wherever you are (which is actually a great strategy for most of life anyway). If she can’t handle a little poop talk, she needs to seriously get a compass and go searching for her lost sense of humor.

    My 5 yr old son’s little buddies from the neighborhood & school are ALL neurotypical kids — the mom’s drop them off at my house all the time and yes, I wipe their butts when they holler for help which they do! ( some louder than others) — sometimes they need help, sometimes they don’t, but they sure call for it when they need it. And yes, when another child is over and calls out for help, you will wipe their butt too.

    And frankly I prefer my son hanging out with the kind of moms who don’t think twice about wiping another kid’s butt. Because that’s what you do when you’re a good mom and a good person.

    Also, at 5, many NT kids are not comfortable being dropped off and left w/o their Moms for a playdate until they’ve had one or 2 with Mom sticking around. We just had one of those — I offered to host a drop-off, and she said “he does better when i’m around at first”. It always eases the transition to going it solo easier. Then the kid can learn the lay of the land and get to know me, so that they will feel totally comfortable asking for help with anything.

    It’s logistically trickier w/twins, but is there any way you could get a sitter for John for an hour so you can hang out w/Sam at a friend’s house? It helps too so you can suss out the mom — some of them are great w/helping guide & structure play when a boost is needed, and some just are not. And some of them will be approachable for Sam, and some not so much. Then you can pick who he can comfortably be left with.

    There has only been ONE mom who looked utterly petrified at the idea of her son’s buddy being “autistic” because she had no idea what that meant other than from movies– so kudos to her for accepting the invite. I sat her down at the table and gave her the full rundown of Isaac’s issues, CLEARLY sending the message that I was neither embarrased by nor blind to any of his challenges, and that it was as normal as a blue sky to me. She seemed much relieved afterward, and the boys played beautifully. And I got to suss out that she is not a butt-wiping mom, so no drop off for Ike over there.

    God bless — the more you do, the easier it gets.


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