Keep in mind, I am not a child psychologist or social scientist. I am, however, the mother of a little girl with special needs and I care a whole lot about her being included in social situations and having genuine friends. I have encountered some positive experiences with other children reaching out and including Chloe and watching her enjoy those relationships and experiences has been a delight!
Abby is a little girl in our previous neighborhood who, when riding bikes or walking past our house, liked to stop and see Chloe. During these short visits, we found out Abby was learning to read and we told her how Chloe loves us to read to her. Abby’s mom suggested Abby come read to Chloe once a week.
So that’s what Abby did. Both girls loved it! We all looked forward to our weekly book readings. Abby’s mom would help her pick out different books at the library about things Chloe liked — princesses, animals, cars…. we let Abby borrow books of Chloe’s so Abby could learn to read them as well. A real friendship developed and Chloe always looked forward to her visits from Abby! Abby invited Chloe to her princess birthday party. I was so nervous for Chloe to go, thinking she might get left out or have sensory issues, but neither happened.
The other girls were so sweet making sure Chloe got included getting her makeup done and nails painted. When they played with the parachute and danced, they made sure there was room for Chloe’s Cinderella “carriage.” This was one of Chloe’s favorite parties ever!
At the princess party, Chloe met another friend, Amoree. She came by a few times as well to see Chloe and play dress up or just hang out!
We no longer live in that neighborhood, but I keep in touch with Abby and Amoree’s moms because along the way, we became friends too!
Even though Chloe does have a special seat and a wheelchair to sit in, she often ends up lying down when we go places because her joints need a break or her head is tired and sometimes just because she likes lying down! Often at friend or family gatherings, other kids will just lie down with her, talking to her, playing with toys, reading, and just being silly kids! I think it’s so sweet when they get down with her.
Sometimes Chloe makes friends with my friends’ friends, through special needs friends, with cousin friends, and there’s school friends, church friends, so many friends!….
One of the best examples of friendship and inclusion towards Chloe happened when we were camping. There was a trampoline and a bunch of kids were jumping on it…some cousins, some friends, and some strangers. Chloe was getting fussy and after we questioned her for a bit, we realized she was wanting to play with the kids. So my mother-in-law went over to the trampoline and told everyone Chloe needed a turn and wanted to play with them, but that they would need to jump a lot more softly while she was on. I thought they would react reluctantly at best and quite possibly there would be some tears and/or tantrums. I couldn’t have been more wrong! Everyone stayed and talked to her and they made up a game. They put Chloe in the middle and they would stand around the edge and bounce really softly, whispering ‘3, 2, 1…’ then they would yell, do a bummer, and say, ‘BOO-YAH!’ Everyone loved it, but especially Chloe, as I’m sure you can imagine!!! The picture quality is terrible because I snapped it quick with my cell phone and they were bouncing, but what a special moment!….
One last example was from a little girl who has never even met Chloe. I am friends with her mom and she told her little girls about how we were raising money to build Chloe’s Sunshine Playground, an inclusive playground to be built in Syracuse, Utah. One of her daughters put together a lemonade stand a few days later and when her mom asked what she wanted to do with the money she earned, she said she wanted to give it to Chloe for her playground. What an astonishingly charitable young lady!
My point of this post is this: special needs children can have friends! Their activities might look a little different and a little more parent involvement might be required, but friendship is possible, fun, and important for everyone involved! It’s important to realize that these friendships shouldn’t be forced, but genuine. However, something that can keep other children from having that genuine desire for friendship is if they are told not to ask questions, to look away, etc. Being open and talking to children about differences teaches them not to be afraid. More importantly is mentoring them through example. Even though all these examples are of children seeking friendship with Chloe, I can tell you that first their parents sought friendship with Chloe. That told their child that Chloe was a great person to have as a friend and wheelchair/non-verbal aside, she is fun to be around. During our visits with other children, I’m often asked lots of questions about Chloe. I can tell their parents sometimes feel uncomfortable, but I gladly explain (not in too great of detail) that she’s different in some ways and very much the same in other ways. I often point out how everyone is alike and different in many ways like hair color, favorite types of movies, etc. Even though the friendships are genuine, there has usually been an extra bit of effort on one or both of the parents’ parts, simply because Chloe does not speak and that’s how communication and friendship usually happens. But that extra bit of effort is worth it for all of us!