Hot Topics in Autismland (#585)
One Word Can Make a Big Difference (#587)

Bowling Together (#586)

"Does he have friends?"
I always pause when people ask me that about Charlie. Do they mean "same-aged peers who he regularly sees and plays and interacts with"? The answer is no, in that case.

Sometimes my interlocutor presses on: "Well, what about his classmates? They're his friends, aren't they?" Well, not exactly, would be my overly long-winded answer. When I have observed Charlie at school, he has simple, structured interactions with the other boys---they exchange greetings and small bits of information, they move around each other in the room, they slump in their chairs around a table and I think I can see Charlie's eyes maybe sliding to glance at whoever is next to him.

But friends can mean a lot more, can mean----for Charlie---a somewhat less direct kind of interaction that nonetheless means a lot to him.

Bowling with the three dark-haired daughters of an old friend of Jim's---who visited us at the beach and pool last summer---proved just the right way for Charlie to spend times with, yes, his friends.

One often hears how autistic children can readily engage in parallel play but need to be taught to play with other children, and this is certainly the case with Charlie. As he has gotten older, I have started to think that I ought never to underestimate the value of parallel play. Charlie may be playing alongside another child rather than directly with them, but I do think that Charlie, despite what his body language and other gestures might say, is thoroughly aware of others around him and, indeed, relishes this.
Long rows of long lanes, lined with gutters and rubber bumpers; big colorful balls; pins you roll the ball into and knock over: What could be more perfect for parallel play?

This was Charlie's first time bowling and at first Jim and I hovered, helping Charlie to carry over the ball, showing where to put his fingers, position the ball on the floor, push it. Charlie went through this a few times, eyes looking all over: We were at lanes 25 and 26 and there was something everywhere. Computer scoreboards, ads ("have your party HERE!"), kids and adults and balls, strange shoes to put on, pitchers of soda, pop music (and disco bowling far off to the right).

"Home Daddy bue bankett! Home Daddy bue bankett!" Charlie looked at me, looked at Jim, said that phrase time after time, slow and loud, and increasingly to the accompaniment of small and then bigger schrieks and some doubling-over at his waist, arms wrapped tight around him.

"Here's the ball, Charlie." I pointed out a red 8-pounder that Charlie picked up on his own, poking his long fingers into the holes between moans. "Over here, pal," said Jim and positioned Charlie's hands on the ball at the end of the lane. "Push!" S-l-o-w-l-y the ball went over the shiney floor and just knocked over a pin on the left side. "Ball," I said again and indicated the same red one as it came back out the chute and Charlie, with a minisculy smaller amount of us prodding, did so, then brought the ball over to the lane, positioned it on the floor, rolled it. He did this over and over again with us hovering in and out and, when Jim bowled a strike and as I found myself using my left hand to bowl because I felt a twinge in my right arm (I am right-handed----well, maybe not), it occurred to me that Charlie was standing to the side, now by the table, now by the girls' mother, now picking up the ball on his own and bringing it to the lane, taking it all in, and no word of home or the blanket.
Charlie went with Jim to get French fries and sodas and sat munching his own plate with the three girls sharing a bigger one. (Charlie made no attempt to eat any fries but his own.) The oldest daughter kept score in between bowling (and she got at least two strikes and a couple of spares); Charlie and the youngest girl (a preschooler who shares the same birthday as him) bowled together for two rounds.

When we had bowled two full games, Charlie was ready to go and offered hasty "byes" and fast backwards hugs after taking off his bowling shoes. "Bye Charlie," the girls said.

If you were to ask me now "Does Charlie have friends?", I think you know what the answer is.



Charlie may be playing alongside another child rather than directly with them, but I do think that Charlie, despite what his body language and other gestures might say, is thoroughly aware of others around him and, indeed, relishes this.

Is this not the essence of friendship? In other words, that one relishes the experiences of others?

One of the delights of parenthood, for me, was overhearing how my daughter used language with persons new to her to construct a shared experience. But as you know, my daughter is NT.

My friend Mary Wanless uses this metaphor for this sort of interchange: You start in city Y, and I start in city X, and together we meet up in city A.

Charlie has people he is glad to see again. Charlie enjoys what others experience, vicariously. Are these elements of friendship? I say yes.


Edith Rose doesn't have any friends either. At least not in the normal context of the world. She knows some of the neighborhood kids and her classmates.

She does not talk about any one specific kid though, in fact she doesn't speak about any kids, nor expressing any desire to be around them.

The exception to this might be her echolalic(?) repetion of "I hit Jaylen and Tina on the head" when I pick her up from school. We have checked, just in case, and her statement is never true. So, I'm not sure why she says it.

Edith seems to be interested in playing with other children when she is near them, but, she lacks the social skills to actually remain engaged with anything beyond what she calls "catch you running" (translation is chase). As for this game, she only understands someone chasing her, the other way around doesn't work.

Edith will eventually push or hit a child, or keep trying to hug and kiss them. She does a lot of what you, Kristina, refer to as parallel playing. I think that is a good term for it.

Sometimes, Edith will ask me, "are you friend?". I'm not sure if this is more echolalia or not. Nonetheless, each time I reply, "Yes. I'm your Daddy".

We always respond to whatever she says, whether it is merely echolalia or not. We want her to know that we are always listening, and are interested in whatever she has to say.


There's a little girl in Sam's class who tries to get him to interact with her. Sometimes she succeeds.

Sam will happily play in the same room with his siblings, each doing their own thing. Little brother will go into Sam's room in the morning and start playing with Sam's toys; Sam doesn't seem to mind, as long as brother doesn't start messing with his dominoes. (They can both play with Tinkertoys at the same time without any conflict.) Little sister tends to play with the toys Sam has had very little interest in, maybe because that minimizes conflict with her brothers.

Little brother & sister are twins, and they are each other's friend. Sam likes them both, but isn't quite so close with either of them. (He likes holding sister's hand in the car sometimes. They both seem to enjoy that.)

Kristina Chew

Too sweet---Charlie insisted on holding the hands of 2 therapists last week when they took him for a walk (they were charmed).

Clay, we do the same with whatever Charlie says to us, providing some kind of verbal response, even when he does not use words.

"Charlie has people he is glad to see again," and enjoys what other people do---as good a definition of friendship as many; thanks, Liz!


I'm glad Charlie was able to join in & enjoy the bowling. Brendan can't bear to be in a bowling alley at all- too much noise & too much visual overload (& all this before trying to do something with the ball). :)

Brendan has just one true friend & they've been friends since preschool. His buddy was diagnosed with PDD back then, so they have always had similar developmental issues. They haven't gone to the same school since they were 5, so we do our best to get them together as much as possible. Even though their interests have diverged somewhat over the years they always find something to do & have a great time together. Othat than this one friend, Brendan hasn't really bonded with any other peers, although he does have occasional "play dates" with kids from school & plays outside with the kids next door. He doesn't seem to miss having a load of close friends... I do notice him interacting in positive ways with kids at school & at church, so he's beginning to learn how to "kid network" & finding out about movies, games, & other things that they like.

captain dandy

I recently had a few people claiming to be professionals in the disability field tell me that I wasn't friends with a woman I worked with who had a disability.

I believe that their very own view of my friend was that SHE was incapable of having friends, therefore I had to be lying.

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