As kids get older, their interactions get more complicated. Instead of "run around like maniacs screaming," they play tag. Instead of "whack the ball and run around like maniacs screaming," they play baseball. For Tom, the running games - with their lack of rules or specific expectations - are just great. So are any activities that involve intense sensory input (crashing games, bouncing games, and so forth). Tom is a sensory craver, and has very little fear of getting hurt!
Rule-heavy sports and complex "read my mind" games (and tag counts as one of these) make him anxious - and so he just wanders off. Even "soccer for aspies" turned out to be too much, too complex, and had too few supports built in. I don't think the coaches understood how clear, simple, and basic the instruction needed to be...
A few years ago, we joined the YMCA - and got Tom involved with swimming. He became a competent swimmer fairly quickly, and we became regulars at family swim on winter weekends. The same Y featured a "family activity room," where kids could bounce on a moon bouncer, crawl through a space maze, and play in a ball pit. We noticed that Tom could bounce and crawl with the best of them - and rarely had an issue of any significance. In fact, these rule-free, fun-for-all games were great equalizers.
For his 5th, 6th and 7th birthdays, therefore, we rented a moonbouncer. And it was a great choice. Sara did the same - and it meant that Tom could interact with Sara's peers without comment from parents or concern from us.
But while all these sensory games were great, they provided very little opportunity to learn game-playing or social skills. After all - outside of getting out of the way of other kids - there's no need for turn-taking, negotiation, or even physical skill. Bowling has helped with some of that - but still, we have seen almost no real interaction with team mates (not that they're big on interacting, but still!).
To help a bit with overcoming isolation, we arranged with a neighbor family to send their kids to us early in the morning. We drop their kids at the bus, and their kids and our kids get hours a week to play and interact. Of course, we're busy in the early morning - and not really focused on managing or encouraging interaction. Still, we've seen some positive signs from Tom, who will at least say good morning and NOT disappear to his room.
A few days ago, it was wash day. Both kids love to help strip the beds - because I roll them up in sheets, drop pillows on their heads, and shove them into laundry baskets (can you say sensory craving??). Now that we have a loft, I can also pitch dirty laundry and pillows from a height - even more fun!
The neighbor kids arrived as my kids had figured out how much fun it was to run upstairs, drop blankets and pillows on the other kid, and then do it all over again. The neighbors joined in the fun - and Tom actually played along. He took his turn carrying, dropping, and lying on the floor for pillow crashes. He used his silly voice to pretend to be crunched under the blankets. He joined in the "drop it on ME" choruses. In short, he really, truly, played along.
I can't say that this had led to deep friendships - or even to more than one or two conversational exchanges. But it's a start. And one thing that Dr. Greenspan wrote has stuck in my mind for years: if your child has done something once, that means he can do it. So it turns out - with or without the benefits of dirty laundry - the ability is there. Now it's up to us to help him build from that basic ability... perhaps even to the point where he can connect on a personal level with folks outside of us.