Best Friends Forever? By Rachel Nemhauser

Nate is an awesome kid.
He’s funny as hell. He’s silly. He’s energetic. He’s creative. He’s non-judgmental.
He’s sloppily affectionate and tremendously sweet.  His enthusiasm for the world around him is contagious
and his laugh is completely infectious. He loves whole-heartedly and has never
said a mean word about another person. Like I said, he’s really an awesome kid.

With a resume like that, you might be surprised to learn
that Nate doesn’t have many friends. The phone doesn’t ring for him very often,
he trick-or-treated alone this Halloween and a four day weekend just went by
without any playdates or get-togethers.
He rarely gets invited to birthday parties, spends most of his time with
his family, and sees his peers almost exclusively at school.

Of course, Nate’s developmental disability, limited
vocabulary, excess drool, and unusual behaviors make enduring and meaningful
friendships a challenge for him.  His
lack of a strong desire to cultivate friendships doesn’t help.  Most days he’d rather do an activity of his
choosing than accommodate the preferences and tastes of a playmate. He prefers
his own house, toys, and favorite TV shows to the alternative of trying
something new or different. He has little interest in modifying his own behavior
to impress another person.  That’s just
not the way he rolls.

With all of that said though, Nate loves being around other
kids.  He doesn’t always want to join in
their activities but he likes to observe and hang out close by.  He loves to be included in the noise and fun
and chaos, and is especially thrilled if a peer shows interest in his interests.
On the rare occasion that he does attend a birthday party, there is not a
single other guest more enthusiastic when the birthday kid blows out his
candles. Nate is joyous around other kids and he’s not afraid to show it.

As his mom, I yearn for more friends for him.  Trick-or-treating with a big group of kids is
a blast, and going without friends can be lonely. Getting invited to a birthday party feels so good and being left out doesn’t.  Having a friend call to check in on you can
turn around a bad day really quickly.  Feeling accepted, warts and all, from someone
outside your family is so completely validating. I desperately and
whole-heartedly want those things for him. I also know that my companionship is
not enough for him, and that he needs friendship for all the reasons that
everyone needs friendship: company, entertainment, support, feeling a part of
something, and so much more.  As he gets
older and becomes an adult, I expect his need for friendship to grow
exponentially.  I can’t plan to be his mom and his best friend for the rest of his life; he deserves so much more than that.

How do I encourage friendship to a kid not
missing it or wanting it?  How do I
convey to Nate’s classmates and their parents that he would welcome being
included, and has a treasure-trove of gifts to offer?  Like many aspects of raising Nate, our quest for friendship is a
work in progress.

Please share your stories and check back soon for more perspectives on disability and friendship. We look forward to hearing from you and learning about how others have answered these very complicated questions!


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