Friends, how do we define? It is something we all wish for ourselves and for our kids. Friendships, what could I do to help my child, my different child, have and be a friend?
This blog has taken the longest to formulate as it pinpoints major transitional changes that mattered to me. That I felt were important for Mel’s growth and her ability to be an independent person, someday. At an early stage, I started my thinking about this topic. It is the one topic not brought up at workshops and the one topic I tend not to talk with either set of friend groups about. Yes, I have two different friends groups. Those with disabled kids and those without. The conversations with both influence my life. Yet neither group discusses the aspects of friendships with those that are disabled.
Friends have been studied and documented. The internet is full of so much information. RL Selman and Dr. RF Goodman are two that seem to know what they are talking about. In putting their information down, I did feel a peace. A moment of, you know, things happen and life is full of change.
The earliest friendships form around the ages of 3, the start of play dates. I made sure those play dates occurred. My purpose, to help build friendships for me and for Mel. In my world it was the neighbor, the church peers and then the disability outing to help my child know she was not alone. I treasured the wealth of knowledge I got from those who had come before me.
For a young child, friends are momentary playmates, they play with those close by. The
friend needs to give them something; however what that something varies from moment to moment. Access and entertainment are usually enough. Three year olds have preferences but the kid I choose today and the kids I ask for tomorrow change quickly. Friends and playmates were not so hard to come by at early stage.
I remember pushing at this early stage to make sure time was set aside to play without mom right next to her. Look at the others, the other kid, they no longer played by moms side. I had to find ways to give my child that developmental tool. I knew from my studies that she needed to move away from me and come back. The start of independent thinking and self security.
She already had the wheelchair. Walking was slow. To keep up, she needed to move. The chair was the ticket to this movement. It allowed her to move to and from us. It gave her the chance to move away from me in the store and around the corner. I truly thought “No one will kidnap her, she is in chair.” Kind of a sad way to think about it but it was true at least in my mind. For her to grow, I had to allow her to move away like the other kids. Was this chair going to prevent walking? That is another blog, sitting in the background.
Sometime between 4 years and 9 years of age, the friends are those who they are around the most, the easiest to access. The friends are documented as anyone who entertains the child, pleases the child, and gives the child access to a like. Neighbor friends became a source of friendship as they were near; an outside trip is all it took to find my differently-abled child a friend for the moment. I was on the hunt for
cool toys. With cool toys, more kids appeared. I liked the Krazy Kar. It was my Mel’s trike and it did not come from a medical shop. I also found two other riding toys with hand controls. Great finds; A twist car and a red ride on with push/pull handles. She had options that others could use. All the neighborhood kids wanted her wheelchair. To them it was a toy; something that looked cool.
Between 6 and 12, the friendship becomes move reciprocal. The childhood friendship is still focused on specific things. They have and I have and thus we can be friends.
By 2nd grade, Mel had a true friend; one whose mom was not a nurse, a special education teacher or one who had a disabled sibling or cousin. This friend was different. She came to our home and invited my child to hers. She was sweet and kind and they played so well. It was important for me for Mel to have a friend that was not disabled. It helped me feel she was not different, that she could and would be accepted, that she could live a real life. I think I was maybe able to forget her differences a lot during this stage. There was less in our life that made her different, less medical appointments and less therapy. Just regular kids stuff. That made me happy.