When your child is different, there are a lot of worries. We worry about their health; their education; and their safety. But we also worry whether they’ll have something that most of us take for granted. A friend. A real, honest-to-goodness friend. Someone they can relate to, who likes to be in their company, and who will be there for them in good times and bad.
Sadly, a real friend is something our kiddos have a real hard time finding. We know this, so we do everything in our power to provide opportunities for our kids to make friends. As hard as we work, sometimes, there is just no chemistry and the signs of a budding friendship just aren’t there. Or worse, there could be real pushback from your kiddo, who has no desire to have a friend, thank you very much. That was Sam. I’ve felt sorry for the kids whose parents “made” them come over and spend time with Sam, who had no desire to play with them whatsoever. Sigh. Play dates that ended badly. Not being welcomed back to playgroup. But before you give up altogether, here’s my advice… Don’t. give. up.
Sam is 21 years old now. And I believe he finally has a real friend. Jack. Jack is probably, no, he IS the sweetest young man I believe I’ve ever met. Jack has autism. Sam has autism. Jack and Sam go to school together at a special school for special needs. Sam will “graduate” this year. Jack and Sam bowl together on a special needs, parent/child bowling league every Saturday. Jack and Sam attend summer camp together. All these together times have slowly added up into a friendship. How do I know they are friends? Well for Sam’s part, he doesn’t make icky faces and “blech” sounds when Jack’s name is mentioned. He’s excited to see Jack. And he’s willing to stand next to Jack, to get his picture taken, for instance. Notice the group photo where Sam’s off to the right side? And the next photo from camp…can you find Sam? For Jack’s part, I wasn’t sure until we were leaving the Easter Egg Hunt and I saw Jack coming toward us with determination, his parents following a short distance behind. Jack went around to Sam’s door and handed Sam two Easter eggs he found after the hunt was over. From his mom’s surprise, I could tell this was not coerced by her.
David Roberts recently published a blog post entitled “How our housing choices make adult friendships more difficult” in which he states: The researchers believed that physical space was the key to friendship formation; that “friendships are likely to develop on the basis of brief and passive contacts made going to and from home or walking about the neighborhood.” In their view, it wasn’t so much that people with similar attitudes became friends, but rather that people who passed each other during the day tended to become friends and later adopted similar attitudes.
It’s the time spent together, rather than shared interests, that cause friendships to form. It was the activities Sam and Jack participated in together in little bits over a long span of time that caused them to form a friendship. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. Friendships that aren’t continually nurtured, tend to fall apart. Loneliness is one of the chief complaints of those living in a group home situation. Even though they live with other people, they may still feel lonely and without real connections.
The fear of my child being lonely after I’m gone keeps me awake at night. It’s one of the reasons my husband and I started the nonprofit, Good Works Farm. When completed, Good Works Farm will be a farmstead community where a diverse group of people live, work, and play together, sharing meals and activities on a daily basis. My personal goal is to see my son surrounded by friends and support for the rest of his life. It’s just as important for those with a disability to have friends as it is for you or me, but it takes a little more effort and planning to make sure it happens.
For more information about Good Works Farm, visit www.goodworksfarm.org