This blog post by my friend, and community member Rob Rummel-Hudson was timely. We’ve been struggling with this issue for a long time, but all the life-saving treatments and surgeries for the kids kept us busy enough to have this somewhere in the Top 10 issues we deal with as a result of raising kids with special needs. Somewhere behind their academics, keeping their kidneys safe and mental health stability. It might be ahead of us teaching chores and allowances though.
The other day at the pool my son eagerly tried to connect with two kids he knows, one of which he’s shared birthday parties with and a sleepover or two and they dismissed him. The other boys were getting ready to leave and my son asked if they wanted to hang out and play. One boy said they were just going to go and play video games so “no, thanks.” My son said, “I like to watch video games, I don’t even have to play…” and they ignored him and left.
He seemed okay but that is what he does, he stuffs it, like he’s done for many years, to protect himself from being hurt. It’s what he’s had to do as a survivor of medical intervention for years and so it carries into the real world. My son is okay in playing with kids but he’s immature compared to his peers so it’s hard to keep up. It’s hard to hang for long periods of times with more than one other person because it’s hard for him to navigate more than one personality. It’s also easier to just do what the other kid wants to do and not appear too young acting.
Our girl also struggles because her play and mind can’t keep up socially. It takes her a while to figure out what other kids are playing and by the time she gets it they’ve moved on. We’re really working on her connection with other girls. Just a couple and I don’t know if it will help, but I hope so. We were especially moved to do this when she was at her first neighborhood swim meet sitting alone with kids she’s known for years. She wasn’t engaged at all, mostly just watching them play. They didn’t notice her at all and she didn’t make herself known.
It’s true, our kids are in the middle, like Rob said. They don’t fit in with either the severely disabled or the neurotypical. I think that they navigate their own worlds by pulling back and I imagine they will do this their entire lives to protect their emotions.
Yet, I push. I arrange play dates with kids who show an interest and seem compassionate and giving in their bandwidth for play. I encourage, like I am encouraging my son to go out to the pool alone to create more opportunities for spontaneous play with other kids. I don’t know if it will help, but I do these things at the same time I want to keep them at home; safe, out the way of kids who dismiss them.
Some comments on Rob’s post suggest that as kids get older their understanding of differences get more broad and maybe more accepting. This sounds nice but then I think about how as my kids get older they also understand their differences with greater clarity and along with that they see why they have less friends than their peers.
I’m really interested in how other parents navigate the world of helping their friends build friendships. How do we prepare them and still protect them?
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