Yesterday we took Peter to his first Play Date at a friend’s house. At the age of eight, our older boys had already been to a variety of birthday parties, play dates, sleepovers, field trips, team events, school parties, etc. I recall feeling annoyed with each invitation, each new obligation. I’ve changed my tune in recent years. Because until now, Peter has received none of those invitations.
There are dozens of reasons why this might be so, not least of which is the fact that kids with autism often aren’t too good at socializing. Also the fact that parents of special needs kids are typically too exhausted to even consider hosting a social event. But this is not a post about the isolation associated with special needs families. I talk a bit about that here. Instead, I want to talk about how this “play date” was meaningful to the parents as well as the children.
A couple of months ago my husband was chatting with the mother of James, one of Peter’s peers at the Autism Academy. James’s family was fairly new and naturally had a lot of questions. That was around the time I started this blog, so I sent Celia, James’s mom, my blog link and offered to help share information as best I could. We developed an email friendship, sharing our stories back and forth, basically offering encouragement to one another.
Then Celia kindly sent us an invitation to come to their home so that Peter and James could play and the parents could chat. Yesterday we packed Peter up and took him to his very first play date.
Knowing our son as well as we do, we kept our expectations low. Would he freak out at the new place? Would he refuse to get out of the car? Would he cooperate? Turns out there was no need to worry. Knowing that both of our boys love the water, Celia and her husband had set up a kiddie pool wonderland in their shady back yard, complete with pools, a splash pad, and trampolines! For two hours Peter was in heaven. He and James splashed, jumped, sipped pool water, threw toys around, and generally had a grand time.
What about us, the parents? Well, we shared information. There is no other way to put it. Without realizing it, we had all been hungry to connect with another family in a similar situation as ours. Yes, on our own we all find ways to help our children. But it was so much more meaningful to talk one-on-one with another set of parents who live with the situation day in and day out. In a way, sharing ideas about how best to navigate life with a special needs child eased the constant burden of isolation and uncertainty.
So this was not just a play date. It was also a meaningful connection of special needs parents. And it was a celebration of some of the simpler joys in life: swimming pools, summer sun, homegrown watermelon, and the forging of new friendships.