#Socialization has always been a priority as a parent. Even before @PanKwake went to school or nursery, I spent hours in the little park in front of our flat, encouraging her to play with the other children. Like many #ActuallyAutistic children, her primary form was ‘parallel play,’ well past the point that she should have outgrown it. In fact, to some degree it is still one of her go-tos for social interaction.
What is parallel play?
Pretty much exactly what it sounds like, playing alongside others, rather than interacting directly with them.
It was this failure to move beyond that which triggered the concerns at her nursery. But as I said, the early years SENCo (Special Educational Needs Coordinator) actually wrote in her report, ‘While @PanKwake displays a lack of social skills, girls tend to catch up.’
Once those disastrous schools days were behind us, I was determined to give @PanKwake every opportunity I could to develop positive social skills. In those early days, that usually meant spending long hours in the parks around our north London flat or at local soft play.
I was what they call a helicopter parenting – hovering nearby. I actually saw myself more of a translator. I helped @PanKwake to make those first connections with other children. And I helped them to understand when she acted differently.
We kept these huge bags of stuff by the door that we called park bags. They contained bubbles, sand stuff, balls, and other toys as well as sensory things, wipes, and heavens only knows what else. They were designed to be ‘kid magnets.’ It was sometimes challenging to get her to favorites but there was usually something in our bag of tricks that would attract a crowd.
She would want to play games like tag, duck-duck-goose, and sticky-toffee. We would collect a small group. I was usually the one that had to be ‘it’ when no ones else wanted to. So, while other parents and nannies sat chatting or on their phones, I was running around with a half dozen or more children.
The hard part was when @PanKwake became bored. She would just run off. Leaving me and the other children without warning. I would try to explain this to them and tag along behind her. Keeping her safe. Back then she was having seizures so I had to stay nearby.
We tried other more structured activities too. These were supposed to allow her independence and give me some respite. We tried… Rainbows (Girl Guides), an afterschool program, a center for special needs children, and a couple of council play schemes. None of them worked. At least not for long.
@PanKwake did have a handful of friends. A little boy from school that she swore she was going to marry one day. A couple of girls that we met while ice skating. And another special needs girl that we met in the park. I did everything I could to foster those relationships – including being the designated adult for all their activities.
Back then @PanKwake meltdowned. Frequently (several times a day) and violently. While the other parents were nice, I could never trust that they could manage the situations. So, I was always the one to take the children places. They came to our house and we rarely went to theirs. (That is still the case to this day.)
Around this time we also hired some help. Primarily so I could run the errands I need to. But also to help her bond to someone other than me. Goodbyes were always problematic though. Transitions often are. @PanKwake would wrap herself around that person’s leg, refusing to let them leave. We would have to pry her off. As with so many things, we made this fun. We called it – the leg game.
While she no longer needs ‘carers’ we still have a couple of young women who we now refer to as companions. She has really missed those lately. Mostly she engages with them through that parallel play. The difference is that it is now a computer screen and not the home corner.
When we moved to Swansea, there was an active home education group with several activities each week. We had tried those a couple of times in London. The first one was too far away. The second time, I attempted to start my own group, but that wasn’t easy given how much of my attention she still required.
We tried loads of activities. Most were problematic for one reason – transport. I don’t drive. That was not much of an issue in London but here it can be. I’ll never forget the time that we went to a horse refuge with the group. We took a cab, which was expensive enough. We got lost getting there. She had a great time. (As this picture shows.)
But at the end, she was hungry. She did not want any of the snacks I had made. Only a jacket potato would do. I knew I could not risk putting her in a cab then. So I waited for her to calm down. I tried calling for a cab but they would not come out there far. We found ourselves stranded on a narrow stretch of country road. It was about a five minute walk to a sidewalk and bus stop. But that was our only hope.
I loaded our bag on one shoulder and had get on my back piggy style. I carried her down that road, afraid that a car would come around the corner too fast and hit us. We made it, of course. We took the bus as far as a restaurant where I could get her a jacket potato. Then I called a cab. But our adventure was far from over. She started to get sick and meltdown again. We had to get out again. We walked for a bit. Then caught another bus.
That event started at 2 (I think), it was almost 9 PM when we finally made it safely home. I got her settled quietly. And Alan held me as I cried. It was a good lesson for me. I became much more realistic about our limits.
And I learned…@PanKwake does best in her @HomeCrazzyHome. So, we have created a safe place for her and others to interact here.
Like last night, when I was up until after 1 AM, negotiating activities between her and her bestie…and feeding two hungry teens.
But there is no doubt about it. It is worth it. Even those tough times. @PanKwake has the best social skills of any autistic person I know, and most ‘normal’ ones too. She is compassionate. These days even when she is struggling herself.
Tomorrow, I’ll pick up with our little ‘party animal.’