happy young girls raising hands together in park.
Childhood friendship

Making and keeping friends is hard for anyone. This seems to become more difficult when people have a disability involving communication, the characteristics of which are “deficits in using communication for social purposes” or “persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts.” Most kids can say they have friends in the neighborhood, school friends or church friends. For kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder or Social (pragmatic) Communication Disorder, developing friendships requires a lot of effort and provokes anxiety. It appears that the parents or teachers must make efforts to create friendships. I have been creating such friendship opportunities for my children all through their lives. When my daughter was young and attending an inclusion classroom, I called parents of typically developing children to arrange play dates for her. Some parents were really nice and met me half way by bringing their child to play with mine or meet her at the playground. I also called parents of the other children with special needs in the classroom. Those were the ones that happily met me all the way, for they were experiencing the ostracism that comes from having social skills challenges. Of course, that was possible as long as we were attending the local school. When my child was placed out of district, it became more difficult to have play dates and it required a lot of effort and strategic planning. Teachers had to be convinced of the need for friendships so that they would share our telephone number with a child that my daughter talked about at home. Then, we needed to call the parent, introduce ourselves, explain our situation and suggest a meeting place that was neutral and equidistant. Seeing a friend involved travelling, visiting, travelling and avoiding a meltdown.
Many times I questioned who really wanted the friends – my daughter or me? Did I want for her something that I thought all other kids had? Was she happy with one or two friendly acquaintances or did she need several friends? She is now an adult and still friendships continue to be hard. She needs help navigating the adult social world, where there are more unspoken conventions than in the children’s world. Participation in activities that are not located in our town means that she meets people from other towns and since she doesn’t drive, she needs transportation to and from meeting places. However, now that she is an adult, she can tell me that friendships are important to her and we make all possible efforts for her to see friends. That is something we can all understand as we all need friendships. What is hard to understand is that as children with disabilities become adults the opportunities that they have to make friendships with neurotypical individuals are almost nonexistent. There are programs organized by disability organizations to encourage socialization. Such activities are usually attended by people with disabilities and not many neurotypical individuals attend. Furthermore, those neurotypical individuals who do attend are often younger – they notice less the symptoms of socially and communicationally challenged persons, especially their lack of maturity. Yet younger neurotypical children do not serve as peer with age-appropriate interests. We must continue to look for opportunities to provide individuals with disabilities the opportunities to make meaningful social interactions in the communities where they live. I am not sure how to accomplish this but I think the Real Lives bill might be a step forward.

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