I’ve always given quite a bit of thought to Gia’s future. Over the last two and a half years I’ve wondered whether she would survive, eat, walk, talk or live independently. I’ve questioned whether she would recognize her parents, laugh with her sister, make jokes or express emotion. I’ve managed to put some of these thoughts to rest, simply because they are no longer a mystery, and I’ve also learned that excessive worrying about future events does no good. Alas, sometimes I am undeterred by that that obvious fact.
One such worry recently sent me on a downward spiral. For as far as we’ve climbed and crawled our way up the mountain, I managed to tumble pretty darn far back down. Actually, it was more like a swift kick, precipitated by innocently clicking a link to a piece in the Huffington Post entitled: “My Child’s Dream: To Have Friends.” Perhaps the title should have been warning enough, but the article really should have a disclaimer attached: “Read with a box of tissues and prepare to be heartbroken.”
The writer, a mother to a genetically different child, painfully details how her son wants friends, but has none. While this article would be sad for any parent to read, I had to wonder whether this was actually a look into our family’s future. Gia is very social and loves people, but having global delays and being non-verbal doesn’t make friendship easy. I can envision her desperately wanting to interact with kids her own age and perhaps not being able to keep up, either physically or mentally. So I was upset—no… devastated—by this possible glimpse into our crystal ball. I couldn’t sleep; I couldn’t tell anyone about it without fighting tears. When I met a friend for lunch, I realized Gia may never do the same and so ended up crying in her kitchen just because she offered me tea. This behavior just isn’t typical for me.
After my week of sadness, I experienced quite a different reaction: anger. I was furious at a society that worships “perfection.” Then mad at those future tweens who might tease, taunt and de-friend Gia. And, of course, upset at their parents, who might ignore this behavior when they should be educating.
There was also a feeling of great helplessness; how would I force someone to befriend Gia? Why does it have to be this way? After everything kids with special needs must endure, having no friends seems like the last straw, a savage kick in the gut from a society that refuses to broaden its field of vision to include my sweet little girl.
So will Gia have friends? I don’t know.
I can’t live Gia’s life for her. At some point I will have to stand back and let her navigate a society that may never fully embrace her. If this happens, I will be heartbroken, angry and frustrated a million times over. But I am not helpless: I can do more than dream that the world was a better and more equal place than it is.
I can help build playgrounds that serve kids with all abilities. I can help teachers understand genetic diversity. I can remind her classmates and their families that Gia has a lot to offer. Her zest for life, her hilarious laughter, her eagerness to connect and play tickle games. I can blog about the crisis of friendship special needs kids are facing, and encourage mothers of typical children to reach out to those with differences, focusing on what unites them, not what makes them different. After all, isn’t that what true friendship is all about?
Interested in learning more? Non-profits like <a href=”http://www.bestbuddies.org/” target=_blank”>Best Buddies</a> are dedicated to providing one-to-one friendship opportunities to individuals with intellectual and physical disabilities and their typical peers. Live in Missoula and want to learn more about the All- Abilities Playground Project? Please join our facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/ThePlaygroundProject.