Last weekend, after Abe's crew practice and Ruby's soccer game, we packed the whole family (visiting grandparents included!) into the car and drove an hour north to Sonoma Valley to Oscar's friend Eli’s birthday party. Oscar had been talking about the party – a baseball game and swimming – for weeks. He couldn’t miss it.
Oscar and Eli had bonded at school over their sports fanaticism. Oscar, an Oakland A’s and Warriors fan, had finally found someone else who devoured the sports section every morning, someone else willing to talk trades and records and stats for hours. Oscar was even able to accept that Eli is a Giants’ fan, something that might have been a deal-breaker a few years ago. (“Yeah, but he likes the A’s too, Mom,” Oscar would add.)
We pulled up the gravel driveway and spotted the “baseball field" off to the left. Oscar leaped (yes, Oscar leaped) from the car and ran across the grass. "Eli! I'm here! I made it, Eli!!" The big game was already in progress, but I could hear several enthusiastic calls of "Hi Oscar!!" There may have been some high fives.
Abe and Ruby joined in and next thing I knew Paul was pitching and Grandpa was taking pictures. It didn't matter how many pitches someone needed - everyone got a hit. Paul expertly bobbled a few catches, and then Oscar's friend Eli smashed one past the outfielders and several runs came in. GrandMary and I sat with other parents on the deck stairs by the pool, chatting and looking out at the vineyards and surrounding hills. And I pretended that it was always this way. That Oscar was always so engaged, so included, without any scaffolding or prodding. That I didn’t need to be standing on the sidelines making sure he was following along and that no one was getting frustrated with him.
Oscar has made great strides socially this year, and has some genuine friendships centered mostly around a shared interest in sports and music. I know why -- his teachers work on social skills every day, in the classroom, in social skills groups, and in one on one sessions. He, like most people with PWS, has needed to be taught every little aspect of interacting with others. The consistent school-wide push has been crucial. And, importantly, Oscar’s peers at school, a school for kids with learning differences, are well-matched for him. As the head of the school says, these peers “mirror and match” Oscar’s skill set. There is a nice balance of kids who are working on the same things that he is, and others whose strengths are his weaknesses. The mix means that Oscar fits in, but also has models.
Years ago, when we attended our first Prader-Willi conferences, many of the speakers emphasized the importance of social skills. Those conferences were packed too with strategies for navigating food and behavior, the benefits of growth hormone intervention, information on managing GI issues, plus tips for supporting gross and fine motor development. I couldn’t absorb it all. Raising a child with PWS is a never-ending triage situation. There were years when social skills were the priority, and others when scoliosis or GI issues took the front seat. I can’t look back and wish I’d pushed harder earlier. But I am happy to see him so engaged now, so interested in connecting with friends, and able to carry on a conversation of more than two exchanges about something other than just his favorite topics.
I wish I could post a photo of Oscar with one of this friends, but I'm hesitant to without permission. So, instead, here is Oscar with his favorite furry friend -- his cousin A's dog Penny. (Penny, you're famous! And thanks to Grandpa for this and probably every other photo I've posted.)