Friendships and Social Skills

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

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.

Strike a pose

Photo credit: One-12 Photography | Photo appears in the Mom&Caregiver Magazine

When Robert was selected to be on the Mom & Caregiver magazine cover, I didn’t know what to expect. Kids can be so unpredictable, and we were coming out of Covid restrictions. How would he react? Would he participate willingly? What were they expecting of him?

The magazine called me and gave us some ideas of what they would be doing that day and what we could expect. I was asked accommodation questions, such as “does Robert have any sound or light aversions?”. Clearly, we were going to a location staffed by empathetic and accepting people. They suggested we dress Robert in a blazer, graphic tee and cool shoes. I looked in his closet for the perfect outfit and even did a Pinterest tutorial on cool ways to tie laces for his shoes. I was going to make sure he looked the part of the model they wanted.

When the day arrived, Robert was very nervous. He had started to believe in these Covid-times he was only going to get needles when we brought him to unknown places. While I did my best to reassure him, he didn’t believe me. Eventually, he trusted me enough to walk to the studio, where he was greeted like a celebrity.

The staff all made him feel comfortable and confident. They laughed at his antics, and he proudly showed off his baby sister. He posed and loved every minute of the experience. In fact, it took nearly as much work to encourage him to leave the studio as it did to take him into the studio!

When the magazine was released, I was blown away. Robert’s personality shines, and it’s clear he is made to be a cover model. I don’t know if this is just my bias showing…

While the world is becoming more diverse, there is still a long way to go. Magazines that feature kids who look like Robert are essential to help remove the stigma of disabilities. When people with disabilities are featured, not as tokens but as humans, it makes it easier for people to feel comfortable around disabilities. Disability is not a bad word, and there is no shame in being disabled. If it makes you uncomfortable, ask yourself ‘why?’ and sit with that answer and reflect on it.

So thank you to the Mom & Caregiver magazine and all those who voted to feature Robert on the cover. It was an excellent experience, and it brings me joy to know that my son can bring a smile to others. After all, representation matters, wouldn’t you agree?

Eight

Photo by Miguel u00c1. Padriu00f1u00e1n on Pexels.com

How is it possible to look at you and immediately be taken back to those first breaths you took? Or, to think it’s only been a few weeks since you took your first tentative steps? It’s been 8 wonderful years, but I remember each one still so clearly.

When Robert was born, I was given a birth diagnosis of Down syndrome. The hospital staff looked at me with pity. I still remember feeling confused by their reactions. I had volunteered in high school working with youth with disabilities. I actually did some 1:1 volunteer work with a girl with Down syndrome (I wonder how she is? She’d be about 30 years old now..). I had written a paper for grade 10 science on down syndrome, and again another in a university course I took. While I didn’t know much, I do remember thinking it was going to be OK.

I told our social worker that raising a child with down syndrome was going to be like raising a child who is left-handed in a right-handed world. The world isn’t designed for him, but we will adapt, change and do everything necessary to support him.

Never did I imagine when he was born that he’d be learning to play the violin. Or playing math games just for fun. I didn’t think he’d take a shining about learning our solar system or facts on dinosaurs.

I had hoped he’d be included and have friends, but I didn’t realize that he’d have such a solid group of friends who look out for him already.

Through raising Robert, we’ve discovered a community we didn’t know existed. One of parents and allies who understand that it’s the world that needs to be changed, not our children.

I think about how lucky we are to enjoy each stage a little longer, a little deeper and how we appreciate each milestone achieved in a different way. We certainly don’t take for granted that we are part of the lucky few.

So here we are. With an 8-year-old world changer, who is as funny and sweet as he is stubborn and sassy.

Bonne fête, Robert. Je t’aime.

Worthy

I’m sitting in my bedroom, holding the baby close as I nurse her. The lights are off in an effort to keep quiet and calm. I breathe her in, soaking up this precious moment with my last baby.

Snuggling my best girl

I thought this year would be different. I hoped for more quiet moments to snuggle my girl. Moments of healing, bonding and silence.

Instead, as I sit with her in my arms, I hear the middle 2 boys up to no good in their room. I’ve put the 2-year-old in his crib, and I can hear the 4-year-old running around the bedroom. I needed a break, and I needed them to be safe, so they are in their room and I’m in mine.

They share a room, by choice, and I can tell they are scheming together about something. A plot to keep me on my toes, no doubt.

The mattresses in their room give in to the weight of the boys as they jump on their beds. They giggle.

I am exhausted. It’s not the typical exhaustion of a mother. It’s not that new baby exhaustion. It’s different.

I know I am not alone in pivoting and navigating the online/virtual learning schedule. The big kids should be in class, with their peer groups, making friends. Instead, we navigate learning in silos from each other. I’m lucky. I have family helping me with Robert’s online learning, in a collaborative effort to ensure he doesn’t fall far behind his peers. Ensuring that the gap between him and his classmates doesn’t leave him at a bigger disadvantage.

And while muddling through all of this is trying, especially with a newborn and a toddler underfoot, my exhaustion runs deeper.

But this exhaustion is different. It’s not just the virutal learning exhaustion.

Reading headlines, seeing people posting about how Omicron isn’t anything to worry about. Only people with other conditions need to worry. You know, old people and people with disabilities.

Everyone is overreacting. Everyone will be fine. Except those who won’t but don’t worry, their lives are expendable. They had other conditions. They were old. They were disabled.

That message just keeps playing in all circles. On the news. On social media. You can’t escape it.

And the thought of my son – with a disability – being considered as disposable in our society is so difficult to read. It’s as though people don’t remember that people with disabilties and who are older are still PEOPLE.

The fight continues. The fight to remind people that my son is smart, intelligent, kind, funny, and WORTHY. And that’s exhausting.

I’m exhausted by it.

I hope one day I become old. I think we all do.

And we could, at any instant, become disabled.

I pull myself together. I soak in the smell of a three-and-a-half month old baby.

I’m exhausted, but I’m still a mom.

My kids don’t see the headlines, and I seek to be the mom they need. Guiding them in the world, teaching them to do laundry and to pick up after themselves.

As the baby finishes nursing, I take a deep breath. I breathe her innocence in. The sweet smell of a new baby.

I listen to the boys giggling in the next room.

The kids don’t know the headlines, and after a minute to myself I yearn for their energy and joy. Time to go outside and see the world through their eyes.

Getting outside to breathe in the cold, fresh air

We are worthy. My kids. My family. No matter their ages or disabilities.

We are worthy.

One More Thing

Sometimes, something happens and it’s not really a big deal, but the weight of that moment feels like so much to bare.
One more thing on an already full plate.

Report card season? It’s not just looking over one report card, it’s looking at two. It’s trying to figure out how the report card and the education plan for your child line up.

Doctor’s appointment? It’s not just one quick visit to the family doctor, it’s an appointment with the pediatrician, followed by blood work, followed by a follow-up visit or call.

And usually, these ‘little extras’ aren’t a big deal. But sometimes, it’s just one more thing on a full plate.

Recently, we’ve been pretty quiet on the blog. It’s been a succession of events that have felt like “one more thing” on an already full plate. And blogging about it, while typically therapeutic, just wasn’t a priority.

But summer is here. School is nearly out. The return to normalcy feels imminent and possible this summer.

We’ve registered Robert for some private swimming lessons at a local pool. He starts next month, and fingers crossed that it’s a wonderful experience for us! He’s been partnered with an instructor who has conversational level French skills, and he has been so excited to swim all year (the overflowing bathtub as he attempts the freestyle in the tub are proof of that).

Our boys are forever keeping us on our toes, challenging us to become better parents, more patient people and (most importantly) safe places for them to process emotions. And just when we think that we’re at our breaking point, someone comes over and gives us the sweetest hug or says the sweetest thing.

Making “soup” together

For Father’s Day, I asked the boys to draw something for their Pépère. Robert drew one of his dolls, complete with her wild hair, big eyes and shoes. I’ve wondered when he’d begin drawing people. It’s a skill that’s been broached with his OT before. “Tadpole” people are typically drawn by children between 3 and 5 years old, with more details emerging the older they get. You know, the head with legs and arms directly attached to it. This is where Robert’s at – and while some parents might think “ah, it’s just stick people drawing, not a big deal!”… for us, it’s ONE MORE THING.

It’s one more thing to celebrate!
One more thing to marvel at!
One more step in his development and understanding!

It’s one more thing for us to be proud of. It’s one more thing for Robert to do with confidence.

So while sometimes, one more thing is heavy and feels like the breaking point is near, other times, that one more thing is simply marvellous!

What’s that one more thing your child has done this month that’s made you proud?