Friday, November 14, 2014

Best Friends Forever? By Rachel Nemhauser

Nate is an awesome kid.  He’s funny as hell. He’s silly. He’s energetic. He’s creative. He’s non-judgmental. He’s sloppily affectionate and tremendously sweet.  His enthusiasm for the world around him is contagious and his laugh is completely infectious. He loves whole-heartedly and has never said a mean word about another person. Like I said, he’s really an awesome kid.

With a resume like that, you might be surprised to learn that Nate doesn’t have many friends. The phone doesn’t ring for him very often, he trick-or-treated alone this Halloween and a four day weekend just went by without any playdates or get-togethers.  He rarely gets invited to birthday parties, spends most of his time with his family, and sees his peers almost exclusively at school.

Of course, Nate’s developmental disability, limited vocabulary, excess drool, and unusual behaviors make enduring and meaningful friendships a challenge for him.  His lack of a strong desire to cultivate friendships doesn’t help.  Most days he’d rather do an activity of his choosing than accommodate the preferences and tastes of a playmate. He prefers his own house, toys, and favorite TV shows to the alternative of trying something new or different. He has little interest in modifying his own behavior to impress another person.  That’s just not the way he rolls.
With all of that said though, Nate loves being around other kids.  He doesn’t always want to join in their activities but he likes to observe and hang out close by.  He loves to be included in the noise and fun and chaos, and is especially thrilled if a peer shows interest in his interests. On the rare occasion that he does attend a birthday party, there is not a single other guest more enthusiastic when the birthday kid blows out his candles. Nate is joyous around other kids and he’s not afraid to show it.

As his mom, I yearn for more friends for him.  Trick-or-treating with a big group of kids is a blast, and going without friends can be lonely. Getting invited to a birthday party feels so good and being left out doesn't.  Having a friend call to check in on you can turn around a bad day really quickly.  Feeling accepted, warts and all, from someone outside your family is so completely validating. I desperately and whole-heartedly want those things for him. I also know that my companionship is not enough for him, and that he needs friendship for all the reasons that everyone needs friendship: company, entertainment, support, feeling a part of something, and so much more.  As he gets older and becomes an adult, I expect his need for friendship to grow exponentially.  I can't plan to be his mom and his best friend for the rest of his life; he deserves so much more than that.

How do I encourage friendship to a kid not missing it or wanting it?  How do I convey to Nate’s classmates and their parents that he would welcome being included, and has a treasure-trove of gifts to offer?  Like many aspects of raising Nate, our quest for friendship is a work in progress. 

Please share your stories and check back soon for more perspectives on disability and friendship. We look forward to hearing from you and learning about how others have answered these very complicated questions!

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