This Christmas, he voluntarily gave his old iPod Touch (what he used before he got the phone) to Thing Two, who has been begging for the chance to message with his friends. We didn't have a chance to set it up for him before we left for the post-Christmas break, but we did that as soon as we got back. He came home from school on Monday with a list of email addresses and is now in two or three different group chats! Between the iPod and Thing One's phone, the chorus of beeps and bings never ends.
Last fall, I went on a field trip with Petunia's class. One of the special Ed aides who accompanied the group has worked extensively with Thing Two in the past (thank all that is holy, he doesn't need nearly as much help in class anymore) and we got to talking about his progress as we walked around the woods with the third graders. This woman has a son who is high school aged and severely autistic, so she has more perspective than I do about how classified kids move through the academic system here and what additional social challenges they face. Thing Two isn't autistic, but early on we thought he was for sure, and his social aptitude is still behind that of a quote unquote "normal" kid of his age even though he's made tremendous strides. One thing this woman said to me hit home very strongly: she told me to do everything I could to reinforce and maintain the friendships he makes in elementary school, since middle school and high school will be the point at which they start to drift away from him if he's not really ingrained in the group. Since our kids go from a very small elementary/middle school to a very large high school that also takes kids from three other sending districts, she doesn't want him to get lost in the social shuffle in high school.
Since he's currently a fourth grader, both middle school and high school are a long way away, but her point is well taken. He needs a close posse of boys to hang with, and I could only be so lucky as to have him find one like Thing One's crowd. Granted, those are currently a bunch of twelve and thirteen year-old dingbats, but they are bright, well-spoken dingbats with their heads on straight and have each other's backs come hell or high water, which is very reassuring. It seems odd to me that a bunch of ten year-olds are communicating extensively via iMessage, but they are (clearly I'm just old), and per the aide's advice I don't want Thing Two to be left out of that, hence the iPod. Obviously we will be monitoring his e-communications as well, and also encouraging in-person play as a separate effort, but whatever we can do to help him socially, we will. Even if it does result in my kitchen sounding like a pachinko parlor!