Frances went on a long play date today (without me). It’s the same family that hosted the last one, the one that is familiar with Frances and her needs.
It seems that the event went very well until two other, unfamiliar children showed up unexpectedly. If anyone had known this was going to happen, I could have explained the difficulty that Frances would experience.
She has trouble joining groups and staying in groups of children. She does well with one other child, but things break down for her when more children are involved. She also doesn’t interact with children that she doesn’t know unless she is helped to do so.
I see it as another in her series of developmental stages of relating to others. Recently, I made a list* that enumerates her social development:
1. at ages two and three, she seemed completely unaware of other children;
2. at age four, she screamed if children appeared to be coming near her at the park or on the playground or in the library;
3. she had meltdowns and screamed at the park or library or social event every single time; nearby children and parents were often confused or alarmed by her behaviour (screaming and crying) if they tried to interact with her;
4. she allowed children to try to play with her or just be near but did not acknowledge them in any way
5. she acknowledged other children in some way, but only to complain that they were harming her or being mean to her or doing something wrong socially (when they weren’t);
6. she allowed children to play beside her but told them when to leave (usually after a couple of minutes);
7. she stopped telling other children when to leave but told them they were annoying her;
8. she sometimes let a classmate play beside her, but not usually, and stated that she wanted to play by herself; she still always complained about other children;
9. at age seven, she usually let a classmate or two play beside her but with much conflict and confusion; unknown children at social events could be near her but were still not interacted with;
10. she played with classmates using her own rules and didn’t follow along with the others; attempted play dates always ended because of meltdowns;
11. at almost age ten, she plays with classmates as long as rules that she knows don’t change or another activity isn’t initiated midway and still plays primarily alone or beside others; she still has trouble joining groups and there is no interaction with unknown children unless it is facilitated. Play dates do not end because of meltdowns.
She has actually had a lot of occupational therapy to help her join groups and read the cues necessary to stay in them while at play. It takes time and practice to really master these skills.
Unfortunately, she had a huge meltdown after she came home but couldn’t tell us why. After a few minutes she mentioned the other, unknown girls joining but not the difficulty that she’d had.
But I knew immediately. She would have been trying her very best to join in, but she just couldn’t manage it, and the parents didn’t know about this particular difficulty of hers. (I didn’t think to tell them because they only have one daughter with whom she plays.)
I’m not surprised that she became frustrated and overwhelmed.
Anyway, she’ll be calmed down and back to her usual self tomorrow.
She is now watching her favourite movie with Pink Cup Dad while I marvel at the curly hairstyle that I gave Barbie at Frances’s request.
*I don’t know how Frances’s social development compares to other children with ASD. Also, I use the words play and interact interchangeably, and Frances’s idea of playing really differs from what is considered typical of children without ASD.