We met an old friend last week for lunch. She has two children under 3, and The Boy was in his element. He likes babies. Always has. He loves their tiny, fragile hands, loves placing his finger inside theirs and feeling them hold him tight. He looks up then, smiling. "The baby likes me", he says proudly.
Maybe it's the fact that babies can't talk that appeals to him. Nothing to misunderstand. No confusing list of emotions to try and work your way through, there's only ever two on display and they're both really easy to work out. If a baby isn't crying, then it's happy. Simple. No need to talk back either, no need to shape and form sounds into letters and words and sentences. Just make noises. Blow raspberries. Keep touching their nose. Making friends with a baby is easy.
Children do it all the time, communicate without words. As adults we're rubbish at it. We might have a couple of hand gestures up our sleeve for when a car pulls out in front of us, but apart from that and the universal mime of signing-the-chequebook-in-mid-air-when-asking-for-the-bill, we don't have much else in the repertoire.
Children have tag. Or tig, depending where you are in the world. For so long it was The Boy's gateway to other people. His very own Bridge to Terabithia. And the best bit of it all was that no words were required. He'd walk up to a child in a playground, tag them, and then run off. Some wouldn't get it, but that's okay. It's a bit like speed dating for children - just move on and tag the next person. Eventually someone will come after you, and once that other child turns to run after you to tag you back, that's it. You've cracked the code. Friends.
The friendships were often short-lived. Once the other child had tagged The Boy, the game was over. There would be no reciprocal chase. The Boy would head off to find someone else to do it all over again with. He always just wanted to be hunted. Maybe he felt important that way. Maybe he spent so long in his lifetime trying to fit in that someone chasing him made him feel wanted, made him feel like he belonged. Or maybe his dad should stop trying to romanticise a story about two kids legging it around a playground.
Whichever, tag has gone from the repertoire now. His legs tire too easily nowadays, even the toddlers can catch him too quickly. Mixing with others seems harder than ever - words have to be used, and so often it's easier to remain silent as each new encounter carries all the weight of being in the sixth form and finally asking out that girl in your class who you've had a crush on since Year 7.
But maybe one day he'll come to realise just how much his words will forever be his friend. I don't think he even knows sometimes just how good he is at using them. That day when his burger and chips arrived for lunch, it came with a salad on the side. He stared at the toxic greenery on his plate. Disturbingly, some of it was even touching the beige food. I went to remove it, but the pressure of being the big boy in the group meant he stopped me. Halfway through the meal as he's continually pushing the lettuce out of the way, he sighed frustratingly. "What's wrong?", I asked.
He didn't even look up. "I keep finding my chips in the bushes...".
This blog is about bringing up The Boy. He's 12 years old and autistic. It's written by The Dad. It's my words, my view. Other people will think differently and have different opinions. Good.