Rent a Friend

KDBarnOther parents save for college. Me, I’m squirreling away quarters and dimes to rent my kid a friend.

My son is autistic, at the high end of the spectrum, what most people would call Asperger’s. To put it in television terms, imagine Big Bang Theory, and I’m living with the eight year old version of Sheldon. Or worse, House. In other words, it’s only a matter of time before he offends every child in his school, and the only way to fill the seats at his birthday parties will be to offer bribes.

In the early elementary grades, most kids are narcissistic little creatures. They may learn social expectations by watching adults and older children, and you can train them to share and be kind through punishment and reward, but the average human brain doesn’t truly begin to see the world from any point of view but its own until around the third grade.

Remove the ability to comprehend those all important social cues and you have my son.

Typical of many autistic kids, he likes routines, and dislikes venturing into the unknown. We’ve learned that most anything new goes better if we can prep him ahead of time. When we decided to sign him up for a skiing lesson Easter weekend, we first checked with the ski school to find out which instructor would best suit a slightly challenging pupil. “Patrick!” was the unanimous answer. We reserved a slot on his schedule and started extolling his virtues to our son.

Have no fear, Patrick is the best ski instructor ever. Patrick will show you how to turn and stop, and ski down the big hill without crashing, and will definitely never let you fall off a cliff. You and Patrick are going to have the best day ever.

Except Patrick didn’t make it to work on Saturday.

The director of the ski school apologized and offered a perfectly suitable replacement. I am quite sure every female over the age of ten sighed in disappointment when he pulled Cruz out of the line up of instructors to introduce him to my son.

“Patrick couldn’t come today,” I said, all chipper and encouraging. “His friend Cruz is going to be your teacher instead.”

My son looked at Cruz, then looked at me with grave concern. “But Mommy, what if he isn’t any good?”


Being the parent of an only child, I’m never entirely sure which of these red-face moments are courtesy of the autism, and which are just normal childish bluntness. Later, though, while telling the story to my husband, I recalled a family gathering when my younger sister—who is definitely not on the autism spectrum—was around the same age.

I don’t remember the occasion, but we were all dressed in our Sunday best and the women laid out a huge feed. My aunt Joyce had brand new dentures, and they were giving her fits. She complained all through dinner about how she couldn’t chew this or eat that because of her new teeth, until the rest of us were grinding ours.

Afterward, my grandma decided she wanted a picture with her daughters since they were all looking so fine. One of the cousins whipped out a camera and lined them up along the wall, but my aunt was grumpy and refused to flash her pearly whites, until my sister piped up.

“You might as well smile with those teeth, Joyce,” she declared. “They don’t seem to be much good for anything else.”

My sister seems to be getting along okay, so who knows? There may be hope for my boy. But in the meantime, anybody know what second graders are charging for play dates these days?


Kari Lynn Dell – Montana for Real