Enter the Void: The Need for “Circle of Friends”in High School

I have written on several occasions about collegeman’s quest to find a friend and what a challenge it is for him. His life skills coach still meets him at college on Friday’s and takes him into the cafeteria. There he sits with other students in a nonacademic environment and she helps him engage.  It’s actually quite nice for him. He does interact with his fellow students on a completely nonacademic level and she tells me he seems to really enjoy himself. Last week went really well. The students seemed to really take to collegeman and found him truly interesting. He was pleasant and delightful. Hopefully the same thing will happen again this week. The coach is good at parceling out the students who seem open to collegeman. Of course, if they start talking about the Yankee’s World Series win, collegeman’s eyes will glaze over and he will zone out. Professional sports are a waste of collegeman’s time. If he can’t play it himself he isn’t interested in just watching.

 

Now we need to discuss friendships and highschoolboy. He has had this friend since third grade. He considers him his best friend and wants no others. We try to get him to talk to other students but he has no interest. One friend is enough for him. Unfortunately lately, this friend seems to be pulling away. I really don’t know why. There was no indication of any issues. In fact, his mom would call and see if everything was all right if the boys missed a weekend without hanging out. Lately though they have not been answering the phone or making excuses that the friend was not home or asleep. I left a message on her machine today to see if her son still wants to be friends and if everything was ok. I understand that children change,. That is fine, but they should tell me if I should have highschoolboy stop calling. If he wants other friends that is fine too. We all grow and if he thinks someone offers a better friendship that is his choice. But it really got me thinking about what can be done for highschoolboy right now.

 

When they were younger the schools had "Circle of Friends (CoF)." This is a wonderful program where neurotypical and aspie children mix in a support type program. They tend to meet at least once a week and talk about issues that bother them. There is alot that neurotypicals (NTs) and aspies have in common and they learn to help each other. They also learn to deal with each other’s idiosyncrasies and learn to respect each other’s differences. The school psychologist ususally directs the conversation to something about social skills. CoF can manifest itself in many ways and each group can look different and do different things. Sometimes they played games,learned sportsmanship, turn taking and rules of play. Plus they learned how to acquiesce to another’s wishes. It is a great way to help the aspie better integrate into the social spectrum of school and a great lesson in compassion for NTs.

 

In middle school there were the counseling sessions. They stopped calling it CoF but that was what it was. It did not really work for collegeman because the children didn’t really want to participate. We won’t go into what lousy kids they were but needless to say these children will probably become the robber barons of the future. However, for highschoolboy this had been a great experience that stopped with  the end of middle school. I know that the high school says that they can’t do a CoF. They do have clubs that students can join but this isn’t really the same thing. There had been a friendship club for children with disabilities and NT’s would join to help out but it’s not really geared towards an individual student so it doesn’t necessarily address your child’s needs. Also if there are more disabled students the issues that are dealt with revolve around that student. This is the problem with multiple level disabilities. The school did not seperate out the students and their issues, but lumped everyone together. You can’t do that and be successful for every student. It’s why therapists are very careful when they organize their social skills groups. Also there was no cross-over with friendships into the mainstream student population.  Needless to say it was just not appropriate for the boys. 

 

I also find that the aides in high school take their cues from highschoolboy. I would submit that this is not really the way to do things. If highschoolboy could make these decisions he wouldn’t need an aide. In fact at a Program Review yesterday, they told me how he is deciding what homework to do during resource time. Considering he is having a terrible time in math he should work with the certified math teacher but as an avoider he chooses to do english and they let him. I was not pleased with that and told highschoolboy he was to do math. They think its good that he asserting his independence. I have a different take on it. Hubby agrees. They are choosing the path of least resistance. So it comes back to us to make sure that he gets done what needs to be done. Nothing has changed since collegeman.

 

But back to the friendships for highschoolboy. As I said, they let a child with aspergers lead. Why this makes sense to them I do not know. I know that when there is group work then he gets to engage with other students, but they don’t have him interact with others ever on any other level. They don’t even try because he doesn’t want to. Well of course he doesn’t he has aspergers. The other students will talk to highschoolboy about his film class, because he is so on target with that class, but for the most part he would sit at his computer all day and not move,and they would let him. Now I know that they do think they are being kind to him. That they are allowing him to grow by making his own decisions. But they do not know highschoolboy. There is no middle way with him. He either has to follow the rules or he doesn’t. Give him an inch and he will take planet Earth. The same with friendships. If he was instructed and put into a situation where he would have to interact with others the way collegeman is with his life skills coach and the cafeteria, then he would interact and develop additional friendships.

 

So back to my dilemma about highschoolboy. I do not know what is going on with his friend. I am going to have to assume he doesn’t want to be friends anymore and try to get highschoolboy to engage with other children. How I wish there was a CoF for high school. Something geared directly for highschoolboy. It would be nice if the school even tried but they wont. Teens won’t participate they claim, but I think they might be surprised with the group of students in highschoolboy’s year. They were always different kids. The kind that you can count on to be nice and helpful and caring. I think alot of them still care about my son and would help him with friendships if they were asked to. They seem eager to engage him when they think they can. But, you know, the school has to make the effort, both with highschoolboy and the other students. You do have to ask them, they are teens after all. Too bad noone ever does ask them. Too bad the school assumes they are unwilling. Too bad the school sells them so short. Too bad because in the end everyone loses.

 

 

Until next time,

 

 

Elise

 

P.S.Just got a call from highschoolboy’s case manager. She is the coach of the bowling team and thinks if he went to their practices on Mondays it would be a good social outlet for him. Agreed!

 

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About Elise Ronan

Political independent, special needs advocate
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