AsianScientist (Aug. 14, 2015) – One of Jordan’s best friends is an ebullient kid called Michael*, who loves dinosaurs, native New Zealand birds, and Minecraft. Michael is on the autism spectrum, although you’d never think so when you first meet him.
They bonded on Jordan’s first day of school, when they discovered that they both lived on the same street and carried the same school bag, albeit in a different color.
But the clincher was what Michael said when he found out Jordan had just moved to Dunedin from Singapore, “The Singapore flag is red and white. It has five stars and one moon!”
I could tell Jordan was deeply impressed based on the level of hand flapping and jumping going on.
Ever since then, they’ve played at school together most days, hung out at each other’s houses, inventing crazy games like the aptly named “Crash Landing on Mars” which sees them jumping off a retaining wall in my garden onto the grass below, then doing a few roly polys into a standing position.
They shriek and yell in pure joy, while I stare at them pale-faced, heart in mouth. It always turns out okay though.
Jordan realized early on in the friendship that Michael was different from most of the other kids at school.
“Michael knows how to play the games the other kids don’t,” he said. “Like Escape from Predator X, and Spinosaurus.”
I’ve watched them interact now for more than six months, and Jordan and Michael’s unfolding friendship has opened my eyes to the innate wisdom that children possess. I’ve distilled these into five lessons which I hope to apply to my daily life.
1. Everyone is different, and that’s okay.
Jordan’s younger brother Jonah loves reading The Okay Book by Todd Parr. It shows, through delightful pictures, all the different things that are okay, from wearing two different socks, to having freckles, and coming from a different place. It’s a joyful, inclusive read.
Jordan seems to have embraced this ethos. “Michael’s brain works differently from most people, and that’s cool,” he stated matter-of-factly to me, early on in their friendship.
2. Losing sucks, but you’ll get over it.
Before meeting Michael, Jordan really struggled with the concept of losing. A simple game of Snakes and Ladders would be imbued with Greek-tragedy levels of pain and angst. We tried to give him different coping strategies, the best one being “Remember: you can always play again.”
But still, more often than not, losing a game or experiencing any form of imperfection (e.g. spelling a word wrong or coloring outside the lines) would result in a rather miserable child.
Enter Michael. Like Jordan, he too found it very hard to cope with losing a game. He had learnt various coping strategies, but still a playdate at our house would usually be dotted with a few short but intense meltdowns.
To my surprise, Jordan assumed the role of mentor, quietly comforting Michael and helping him calm down. More than once, I heard Jordan say, “It’s okay Michael, I know it doesn’t feel good to lose but you’ll get over it. It’ll be okay.”
Michael taught Jordan to see the bigger picture, and for that, I’ll always be grateful.
3. Sometimes, you get mad at your friends.
Friendships go through ups and downs. In Jordan and Michael’s case, the ups far outweigh the downs, but that’s not to say that there isn’t the occasional skirmish between the two.
Jordan learnt quite early on that Michael doesn’t process pain the same way most kids do. A morning greeting could turn into a head butt or a slap on the back. Some days, that’s okay, other days, I can tell Jordan gets slightly upset about it (unlike Michael, he has a pretty low pain threshold!).
But, as Jordan puts it, “We just forget about it because we are such good friends. I say ‘Hey, stop that!’ and then it’s back to normal.”
4. Stand up for people you care about.
One of the most startling things I’ve observed is how kids tend to pick on those who are most noticeably different. On the days Jordan plays with Michael, he encounters far more mean kids at the playground than on the days that he doesn’t.
“I don’t know why some kids just like doing mean things to Michael,” Jordan said one evening at bed time.
I later found out that Jordan and a few of his other friends stand up for Michael. “We use our words, and tell them to stop being rough with him. If they don’t stop then we tell the teacher.”
When I asked why they only used words to stand up for Michael, Jordan looked at me as if I were the child, “You don’t do what the other kids do, if not the fight just gets bigger and worse,” he said.
5. Choose kindness, every time.
When I told Jordan I was writing an article about his friendship with Michael, and asked him if he had anything to add to the piece, he said, “Just be kind to each other and things will turn out okay.”
Some days, I worry about how my kids will fare in the future. Today wasn’t one of them.
*Names have been changed. This column has been written with the enthusiastic approval of Michael’s family.
This article is from a monthly column called Mushroom Mum. Click here to see the other articles in this series.
Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine. Photo: Shutterstock.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.