Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Feelings from the Island of Lost Toys.

Growing up sucks. I am not going to lie, it just sucks, especially when you are at the age of trying to find yourself. When we were small, we were all pretty much the same. Small little humans venturing out, exploring the world and the people around us. Sometimes we made mistakes along the way, but we learned what was right from wrong. When it came to our social world, we started out liking everyone, because at a young age differences didn't matter. If someone liked the same cartoon as you, you clicked and you were instant friends. But as we grew up, we matured. In the process, we start to see the world differently. Differences are noticed, behaviors change and that wide open minded, carefree innocence starts to harden. So what happens to those who stay in that bubble? Some get lost in the shuffle of a social life, as they don't always know how to properly deal with the social norms. Some are made fun of, because they don't know how to fit in. And some are just plainly ignored, as they are seen as a person that is misunderstood. The sad part is most of those kids who fall into any of those scenarios are the ones who are trying so hard to just have people like them and accept them.

As a parent of two children with cognitive and developmental delays, it is sometimes very frustrating to watch your children grow up. You celebrate every victory they have, but at the same time you grieve the moments that give your child heartache. For my youngest son, the outside world means very little to him, as he is quite content in being in his own little bubble, where my daughter, who does understand the world around her, struggles with being a girl, who just happens to have autism. I think for any parent to stand back and watch their child struggle would be hard, but watching a person who doesn't quite understand why she isn't included in something is a difficult task. It is especially frustrating when your child is one that lights up at the sheer mention of friends or anything to do with friends, but yet in reality they have very few. There are people who don't understand them, but tolerate them. Then there are the people who are mean and nasty and say things that are hurtful. Then there are the few, that look past what makes your child different from the rest and still wants to hang out, regardless of the hand flapping or the over stimulation behavior. This person likes the same things I do, therefore, they are good in my book. To those kids, who view my child as just that, thank you. Thank you for including my child in something. Making sure that they feel wanted. That you appreciate the friendship my child can give you as most choose to ignore my child because she is different. Thank you for taking a chance on my child as it will be a friendship that not only opens your heart but your mind.

This world can be so cruel to those who don't fit into the norm of things. So when I see the spark of a decent human being, it warms my battle weary heart. I honestly think that exclusion is one of the worst things for children who have cognitive and development delays. Being around children teaches not only them on how to behave socially, but it teaches the children around them to accept the differences.

So if you have there is a child in your child's class or social groups, that is special needs, don't assume they don't matter or don't understand when they are excluded from something because you simply don't understand them. As much as they might experience the world differently, they still have feelings. Now I am not saying that we all must bend over backwards to accommodate those with special needs, but if you are going to include 95% of children in a group setting but yet exclude those who don't fit your idea of your child's friends, that isn't fair, especially to a child who only wants to been seen as part of the gang.

As I watch my children make their mark on the world and come into their own, I am proud to know that they will go forth with a good heart. They might have very few friends at their sides, but they will have those around them, who love them, support them and will be willing to step up to the plate when they need a champion. The power of a good friend can be a life changer to someone who has difficulty making them. If your child comes home one day and tells you that their best friend is someone who is a little more special than the rest of the children in their class, keep your mind and heart open to what this friendship has to offer and the lessons everyone will learn in the process. 

I know that if my mother hadn't had an open mind and an open heart 32 years ago when my best friend was a wheelchair bound child with spina bifida, my idea of acceptance would have been a different one.