Thursday, December 15, 2011


I am blessed to have many friends.  I have girlfriends who know me better than anyone, the women I turn to for support, for laughter, for time away.  I value these friendships dearly.  I would be completely devastated if I looked around and found myself with only acquaintances and no true friends.  I won't beat around the bush on this one.  This is a hard post to write.  As parents, we never want to see our children hurt.  It doesn't matter if they are the garden variety of special or extra-special:  seeing your child hurting is more painful than if the harm was done to you directly.  Both of my girls have encountered conflict with friends and until this year, it has been fairly easy to manage.  S handles things on her own; K, most of the time, doesn't even notice.

With S, the older daughter, she has experienced conflict in a variety of ways.  Friends have spread rumors about her, ignored her for reasons that she didn't understand, or said hurtful things to her.  All of these different situations were difficult for her.  They have happened at different ages, but helping her figure out how to deal with these conflicts has remained consistent.  First, we talk about it and why it was hurtful.  Second, we try to see it from the other girl's point of view.  Then, we talk about how she wants to handle it.  Does she want to just wait and see how things go?  Does she want to talk it out with the friend?  Does she need an adult (usually me) to be there to support her?  Most often, our advice is to just continue to be nice - never give someone a reason to talk badly about you.  If the problem persists, it is okay to stand up for yourself.  Tell the friend, "What you are saying/doing hurts my feelings.  Please stop."  Fortunately, these situations are few and far between for S.  She makes friends easily and is a good friend, too.  She has made her mistakes, but learns from them, apologizes when necessary and tries to do the right thing.  Still, it is hard to explain to her why people do or say the things that they do. It's not always easy to help her understand a different point of view.  S might not understand something at the time it is happening, but eventually she does understand and can use the skills we have talked about to overcome the situation.  Her friends always reciprocate.  She has friends to lean on for support, hang out with, giggle with, enjoy time together.  K doesn't have that.

K, my extra-special girl, rarely has conflicts with her friends, but she is, by far, the more vulnerable of the two girls when it comes to teasing, taunting, or bullying.  By participating at her school and in her extra-curricular activities, I saw this starting in earnest around 2nd grade.  It is hard to stand by and not want to intervene, but I've tried to temper my reaction by watching K.  If it doesn't bother her, then I don't make an issue of it.  However, my husband and I both knew that this year - 4th grade - would be the turning point.  Sure enough, within the first month of school, K was upset because some of the other girls were laughing at her.  Another time, one girl told other friends that she didn't like K anymore because "she is weird."  K has been yelled at during recess because she has a hard time understanding all the rules of the games.  She's been told, "You can't play with us.  Go find someone else to play with."  She sits alone in the lunchroom every day.  All of this bothers her, as it should.  I thought it was hard to watch when she wasn't noticing.  Now that she notices, it's like a knife to my heart each and every time.

K doesn't understand why things have changed for her.  I can't tell her that it is hard for her friends to play with her because her auditory processing speed is slow, so it makes her look like she's just not catching on.  I can't tell her that she's less mature than her peers or that singing songs from the Disney Channel in the middle of recess, on your own, with no one participating with you, makes her look too different.  I can't explain to her why the girl who was her very best friend in 1st grade has moved on to other friends.  K can't figure out what happened when one day they were friends and now they are not. She only knows that it makes her sad or frustrated or mad or hurt.  I try to redirect her.  We talk about who she could play with at recess and role play the different ways she could ask someone to play.  None of this changes the fact that, in reality, she doesn't have even one real friend to hang out with.  There are many girls that like her, but none that really play with her or seek her out.  She has to do her part, too, by asking to play, asking someone to sit with her at lunch, but when it is rarely reciprocated, it is difficult to build those skills.

As for me, this leaves me at a crossroads.  Do I call the moms of the girls who have been mean to K?  At what point does she need me to intervene on her behalf and at what point is it better for her to learn how to manage these things on her own?  Do I do both?  This is only the beginning.  There will always be someone trying to tear her down.  We all experience that; extra-special kids probably experience it more.  Do I try to explain to her that the problem is with the other girl?  Maybe, but she doesn't care about that.  She just wants a friend.  Her IEP is full of goals and accommodations to help her get an education, but there isn't anywhere to check a box that says, "Susie must be K's friend."  Once again, there are parts of this I can control and parts that I can't.  I can't make another kid like her, play with her or include her.  I can't make her teacher or the school find her a buddy.  I can't force a friendship when it isn't reciprocated.  And it breaks my heart to see my sweet girl missing out on something that I cherish so very much.  The salt in the wound is that she would be a very good friend if someone would give her a chance.  She just needs one person who won't judge her, but will just appreciate her for all she is and has to offer.  Where is the person who likes to sing Disney songs? Where is the person who will see that she is almost always nice (we all have our bad moments, don't we?), she genuinely likes everyone she meets, and will happily share her toys if you would just come over to play?

What I can control is doing whatever we can do to help her.  If it means more role playing, then that's what we do.  If it means I call every parent on the class roster trying to drum up a playdate, then that's what I have to do.  If it means that I have to be a part of the playdate to facilitate the fun, then that's what I will do.  It never feels like enough, though.  When I ask her who her best friend is, she responds, "I don't really know.  I don't think I have one."

I am so proud of S. She is surrounded with friends and has learned to be a good friend.  I value those attributes so much.  K has the same attributes.  I just hope and pray every day that K has an opportunity to experience the same thing.

1 comment:

  1. This is such a huge fear of mine. Not only for Samuel because of his skinny size, but for Aaron as well. Especially more so for Aaron. It breaks my heart to think about his future with friends if he cannot talk or communicate any better than what he does. Ugh. I didn't know being a parent would be this hard or heart breaking at times!