A friend from my old playgroup came to visit the other day with her five-year-old son. Ryan and Lucas were never best buddies - Ryan once took Lucas out with a football tackle in defense of a disputed toy. As a neurotypical child with an older brother, Lucas is more assertive than Ryan and significantly more adept at defending his own interests. But on this day, they pretty much kinda sorta played together.
Lucas built an elaborate train track and told us all about the Acela Express (according to Lucas, the Acela Express goes from Virginia to New York at a rate of 160km/hr on the straight tracks and 90km/hr around curves, and holds 60 passengers - 20 per car). Ryan pushed a couple of engines around, then, as is his preferred method of playing with trains, started to connect all of the engines and cars together as one way-too-long train.
"No, it's too long!" Lucas warned. "It will derail when it goes around the corner!"
Ryan kept connecting all the cars. Lucas kept separating them.
There was a scuffle. Ryan stepped on Lucas' back. Parents intervened.
My friend suggested the boys take turns controlling the trains. She tried to interest Lucas in some alphabet magnets; Lucas made several well-thought-out arguments as to why Ryan should be the one playing with the magnets.
When Ryan finally settled in with the magnets, Lucas hovered over his shoulder, suddenly regretting his choice of toy. Lucas spelled a word with magnets, and Ryan read it. Ryan spelled a word, and Lucas read it.
Then Ryan saw his opportunity to be the train master; this caused Lucas to instantly lose all interest in magnet letters.
The differences in these boys' play skills were vast and fascinating to observe. There were the linguistic differences, of course: Lucas can form complete sentences, express complex ideas, ask and answer questions; and Ryan can not. There were obvious motor planning differences, too: Lucas designed and constructed an intricate airplane out of Legos; Ryan's Lego creations never get more complicated than single-brick-wide towers, and he doesn't always push the blocks all the way together. And the degrees of imaginative play involved can not even be compared.
But this is the most interactive playdate we've had in a long time. It lasted two hours, and resulted in no bloodshed and relatively few tears. I thought it was a tremendous success.