Thank God For Bossy Little Girls

We went to a birthday party last week at the park near our house. The featured guest was a classmate of Alex’s from kindergarten. Birthdays are always a hit-or-miss proposition. It’s a weird mix of free-for-all fun with sporadic but important periods of mandatory ritualistic participation. Throw in the cake and juice, and you never know how it’s going to go.

This one went great, though. We were the first ones to arrive, and he played in the bounce house with the birthday girl for about half an hour. I give him his space when he’s around his peers, but I also take every chance to watch and try to pick up clues about what helps him interact with other kids. I think bossy little girls are the kryptonite to his social stumbling blocks.

A big misconception with autistic kids is that they’re loners or they don’t want to participate in group activities. Based on books and articles I’ve read that were written by people on the spectrum, and my own observations with Alex, I can say that this is, at best, a poor generalization and, at worst, simply untrue. I’ve seen him on several occasions walk slowly past a group of kids playing or hover on the edge of the circle. He’ll shyly watch for a minute, then look at the ground and shuffle off, only to circle back by for another look a few minutes later. I can see that he’s interested in what they’re doing, and he’d like to join in. But he doesn’t know how to initiate play with others, and he’s also a little hesitant to try, having been rebuffed or ignored before when his advances came across the wrong way.

I don’t blame the other kids. It’s weird when some stranger walks up to you and starts quoting from a favorite movie because he doesn’t know what to say. But when the other kid shows him or tells him what to do, it breaks that spell and he can join in. That’s why bossy little girls are a good thing for him. Brooke, the birthday girl at the party was perfect. When she wanted him to do something, she would just grab him by the hand, take him where she wanted him to go, then tell and show him what they were going to do. He jumped in the bounce house, then they threw water balloons at each other (and me, and the rest of the adults) and had a water gun fight. After he got comfortable, he was the one greeting their other classmates as they arrived and inviting them to play.

The running around and yelling helped get some nervous energy out, so he had no problem settling down to eat some cake, then watching her open presents. And when it was time to bust open the pinata, he got in the back of the line so he could watch all the other kids first and figure out what to do.

In fact, the only hiccup on the day was my fault. I took the boys with me to pick out a present for the guest of honor. I’m a dude. I have two sons. I don’t shop for girls. I just don’t know how. I saw all the Barbies and princess dress-up gear, but decided against that because I thought it might come across as patronizing. You know, modern women and their tastes don’t fit into a little pink stereotypical box anymore.

And the kids were useless. Conner was convinced that Brooke (whom he’d never met) really, REALLY wanted a dinosaur (guess what he’s into). Alex, meanwhile, thought a nice foam sword and shield was the ticket. We ended up going gender-neutral with a board game — Guess Who. “Perfect,” I thought. “It’s fun and intellectually stimulating at a reasonable price.”

I was very proud of myself. Until she started opening presents. Every single gift on the table was some sort of Hello Kitty garb. These gift bags had more pink in them than Craig Sager’s closet. Oh well. We went the entire party without having to explain any behaviors to strangers, and Alex had a blast. I call that a win, and I’m looking forward to the next party. If it’s for a boy the shopping will be easier, but I also hope there are some bossy little girls around to help Alex participate. And if they want to wear pink, more power to them.

1 comment
  1. So there is a place in the world for bossy little girls! I agree with you about the misconception of being a loner. My little guy likes being around people though he can get overwhelmed easily because he doesn’t know what to do. It’s great that Alex joined in the fun! And dude, “Guess Who” is perfect. Thanks for a good read and looking forward to more.

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