This year Maclain started SK. It is his first year in the school system. We had such a great thing going at preschool, I was afraid to mess with it. However despite all of my initial fears, and misgivings, it has been a really fantastic experience for both Maclain and myself. This post isn’t going to be about our specific school experience, that may be for another time, but I do want to write about one aspect of his SK life.
I was sitting in an IEP meeting in January, and we were talking through goals and strategies. We started talking about social skills, and his friends at school, and how amazing the kids have been with him this year. I have seen first hand how genuine the kids are when they interact with Maclain, and how much they want to help him, and spend time with him. He know them now all by name, and they get so excited when he does something, or says a new word, or knocks down the tall towers they build for him.
His teacher shared with me something that had recently unfolded with one of the students in the class. She started to tell me about one day when Maclain and another boy were the first ones finished their tasks. She suggested to this little boy, who I will call “Johnny”, that he could do something with Maclain on the carpet. Well, I guess the boy looked at her, looked over at Maclain, and walked away. She stopped him, asked him again if he would like to play with Maclain, and again he turned his back on Maclain and walked away. As she was telling me she was quite upset, and she felt that she could have done more to get this boy to play with Maclain.
As I listened, I started to think about how this was something that I had always worried about when he got to school. In some of my insomnia filled nights, I would have visions of him sitting in his wheelchair in a corner, all alone. He has so many amazing, funny, thoughtful, and caring friends with special needs, and the worries of him making friends with typical kids scared the heck out of me.
So far though, he has made many friends at school this year, even being invited to bday parties and playdates and I have been so relieved.. I still of course worry about things when he gets older, and kids get meaner, but when I look at how our friends kids are with Maclain, as the years go by, it still warms my heart.
In my quest for Maclain to be accepted, and to be treated as a “typical” 5 year old, I had somewhere thought that he should be embraced and loved by every kid he ever met. Why wouldn’t they all want to play with him, and spend time with him.? He is the bomb.
And then it hit me, that this is what ALL parents want for their kids. Special needs or otherwise. I have always wanted the same for Chase. The reality though is that not all kids like all kids. They develop some friendships that are closer than others. They find something about their friends that attracts them to each other, and the relationships evolve. Chase is not friends with EVERY kid he knows, and as long as he is not mean, or does not go out of his way to leave someone out, I am happy. I do what I can to help him foster these friendships through playdates, and birthday party invites. I suggest he branch out at times and maybe get to know other kids as well, but I never force it. I want him to spend time with who he wants to spend time with, because they have common likes, and they bring value to each other.
Its not about quantity, its about quality.
I don’t want any kids to ever be forced to play with Maclain. I will do what I can, like I do for Chase, to foster and encourage the friendships he has. I will ensure that his EA, and teacher, always provide opportunities for kids to play with him and visa versa. I will talk to the parents, and answer questions when they are asked, and offer tips for how they can all play together. Maclain is a great kid, and other kids will know that, and they will want to spend time with him.
I have to be real as well, and I have to factor in that just like any relationships, friendships take work. And it is a little more work being friends with Maclain. Not because he isn’t friendly and fun, but because sometimes play can be one-sided, and you need to help him with a lot of tasks. There is also the ever looming adult that needs to help him with eating and self help stuff. In general, kids don’t like anything that is too much work. Neither do some adults to be honest. And so I know for some kids, they will only see the hurdles and not the rewards.
I believe in my heart though that some kids will see the rewards of what Maclain can offer. And they will not see being with him as work. They will value their friendship with him, and be excited to spend time with him. They will grow with him, and learn with him, and hopefully one day 30 years down the road they will be vacationing together, while I babysit his kids.