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Why I Almost Didn’t Take My Daughter With Autism to a Pool Party

My daughter Julianna had a pool party to attend with the activity days group, which is comprised of girls ages 8 through 11. For any girl this age, a pool party sounds like a great idea on a hot summer day. But there were two things that made this event difficult for my girl:

1. She cannot swim and is scared to go in the water, especially in large groups.

2. She is on this GFCF (gluten-free, casein-free) diet, and I was concerned she might eat something she shouldn’t.

Oh, and if you want to add a third one, I developed a major migraine for the first time in my life, so my plan to stay there with her the whole two hours went out the window. I knew she wouldn’t be able to go with me this time. And that made me nervous, given the above two reasons.

So I called one of her leaders and explained things to her. She can’t swim. She’s on a special diet. No problem, we can watch her. This wonderful woman made me feel so much better about bringing her there and leaving her without my help.

But in general, if I’m completely honest, I really don’t want to be there when she’s in a social-type situation. And I have two reasons for that, too:

1. I don’t want her to stay by my side and become too dependent on me. I want her to go out of her comfort zone, and if I’m there, she doesn’t have to do that.

2. I hate seeing her around a group of kids when they’re ignoring her at times, when they don’t talk to her, when they assume she doesn’t know how to play and when she’s left out.

Now this doesn’t always happen. Most of the time kids are really nice to her. But the older she gets, the more different she becomes, and it’s just too hard for me to see that. It’s too hard for me to see how she can’t go up to a group of girls and know how to socialize. And I don’t want to be the one forcing my way in there with her all the time.

I wish all kids had that innate sense that a child who’s different should never be left out — that the girl in the corner or on the side of the pool, though she might not know how to play or talk in a group, still cares about being included. I wish those kids would notice that and come over to her, talk to her and make her feel important, just like the other kids feel. I usually end up resenting the children who don’t even make an effort to talk to her or include her (but I get over it). I know that sounds horrible, but it’s true. That’s exactly why I don’t want to be there to see it. I don’t want to know who was ignoring her. I would rather assume everything went just fine. This is an honest post. And right now, I’m crying just writing about it.

Now I understand girls at her age shouldn’t be expected to do these things. I know they’d rather play with other girls they can have fun with. I guess what I’m wondering is, how can this be improved for girls like Julianna? What can parents do to educate their kids about children with differences? How can we make sure kids like Julianna don’t feel left out? How can I help Julianna learn how to socialize better, because she’s approaching pre-teen years, and pretty soon, socializing is going to be the most important thing friends do? Just thinking about this makes me so scared.

I wasn’t at this party, so I don’t really know if she was included or not. But I’m using it as an example to explain what I go through every time she goes to some type of party or event. I know what it’s like to feel left out and ignored. I think everyone goes through this at some point growing up. I don’t know how much can change, because kids will continue to grow up, and kids with differences will do the best they can to keep up. And if they can’t, the most important thing is for them to know they have someone looking out for them, caring about their needs and feelings, too.

Julianna wants to be included and loved and have friends who love her for who she is, just like anyone else. I’m not saying she doesn’t have friends like this, because she does. But I just want people to know a little bit more what I feel and what Julianna feels.

Having a child with special needs never gets easier. Every stage presents new challenges to overcome, just as it does raising all children. Today I was telling my husband that I considered not taking her to the party, even though she was so excited to go. I told him it will be too hard because I have a headache, which means I can’t be there, and then she can’t swim, and then her new diet. But he said, “It doesn’t matter. What is important is that she is there.” And he’s right. I can’t let anything keep me from her being there. Maybe no one else will remember she was sometimes, but at least she will know she was there. If she wants to be there, I will take her. And hopefully, each time she is growing in some small way.

Follow this journey on The Special Reds.

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