Monday, May 16, 2011

Finding a Kindred Spirit

While most parents can take for granted that their kids will have friends, this is often a big concern for parents of kids with autism. It certainly is for us. And, it is not just because our son has trouble with expressive language or reading social cues or knowing how to interact with other kids.

It is also because he has such unusual interests that it is difficult to imagine finding another child his age who would want to talk about the periodic table, or watch YouTube videos of elements, or make models of atoms.

The other night, we were invited over for dinner. The woman who invited us was the mother of a boy in our son’s special needs karate class. It was so nice of her to extend the invitation, but we had some anxiety about going.

My wife said that this other boy, Sammy, is so well behaved. In comparison, she thought our son is much more out of control. She was nervous about how Kai would behave at a home he had never been before. Would he even sit for dinner? How much attention would we have to give him?

We also wondered about how Kai would be around Sammy. Although they are in the same karate class, they do not communicate much with each other. And, Kai hardly ever plays with other kids at all.

As we entered the house, the two boys went off together while we parents socialized. I wouldn’t describe what they were doing as playing. Mostly we heard Sammy complain that Kai was getting into his things.

When it was dinnertime, it took a little bit of effort getting Kai to come to the table, but he became more interested when he found out there would be a prayer and candle lighting before the food would be served. The family is Jewish, and they observe Shabbot on Friday nights with prayer, songs, wine and bread. For Kai, this was similar to the Passover Seders that he loves.

And so, he was well behaved during the ritual, and then ate some of his dinner. But, he wanted to explore the house so he and Sammy went off while the rest of us finished our meal. In our conversation, we learned that Sammy is also on the spectrum.

After dinner, we snuck upstairs to take a peek at what the boys were doing. We could hear them talking. They seemed to be playing with each other. It actually sounded like they were talking with each other, but, it is very unusual for Kai to have a conversation with another child.

Then I heard him say something about “hydrogen” and figured that he was just self-talking about elements like he often does. But when we heard Sammy respond to him, my wife and I looked at each other with quizzical looks. We asked his mom if Sammy liked elements. She, in turn, was also surprised. “Does Kai like elements?”

We found out that our sons are remarkably similar. We entered the room where the boys were playing. They were playing with the atomic models that Sammy has. We also saw Sammy’s favorite poster – a giant periodic table – and his periodic table placemat.

We couldn’t believe it. Kai had found a kindred spirit, a boy just like him! A boy who loves the periodic table!

I don’t know if they will end up being best friends. Though we certainly intend on giving them a lot of opportunities to play together in the coming weeks. But no matter what happens, it is incredibly heartwarming to visualize, for the first time, the possibility of our son having a good friend.


  1. I know that Kai and Alex would be great friends. They are so much alike. I am glad to hear that Kai has found someone to enjoy good times with. Good for him!

  2. how wonderful
    Common interests are a great basis for friendship


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