We all want our children to have friends. We want them to develop healthy social skills, get along with others, and have someone they can trust to play with and confide in.
Knowing our son is different, we anticipated he’d have trouble making and keeping friends. That didn’t make this morning easier.
We saw a friend from last year walking into the schoolyard, and I urged him to catch up to her. He ran after her, yelling her name to grab her attention. She didn’t hear him, but he dashed towards her. I watched as he caught up to her while she was chatting with another classmate. I expected the two girls to include him.
I watched as they continued their conversation and walked away from him. My heart sank.
Grade 3 is tough. This year, even more so for Robert, as the core group of his friends from last year were all paired off in different classrooms. He has one classmate who is a wonderful friend, but I’m not even sure if he is developing friendships within his classroom this year.
I watched as he put his backpack down outside and looked for a friendly face. He tried to encourage another boy to put his bag down and went to another small group of girls to join their conversation. They were patient, joining in his excitement as he jumped up and down, but it quickly became apparent that they didn’t know how to interact with him.
The gap in social skills seems to have opened so wide it could swallow everything around it. I wasn’t ready for this.
I could feel my heart breaking and tears welling up as I watched him try to find his place. Ever the brave boy, he kept trying. He looked around him, and he kept trying.
I left the school drop-off zone after watching him round the corner of a school portable. My mind raced as I tried to think about how he must be feeling and how to handle my emotions. I wondered about what this means for him as he gets older.
I desperately want him to have friendships and community around him. I want the world to turn to him and others like him with disabilities and say, I see you. You are Valued. You can sit with me.
Please talk to your children about inclusion. Cultivate their empathy and remind them that everyone wants to feel as though they belong. Next month we will celebrate Canadian Down Syndrome Week from 23-29 October 2022, but I want my child to be celebrated and welcomed every day.
It starts with us.