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The Day I Stopped Trying to Help My Daughter With Special Needs Make Friends

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As the parent of a child who is nonambulatory and nonverbal, I worry about how she’ll assimilate with other children as she grows. Will she be unconditionally accepted? Or might she be alienated? Will she have the opportunity to enjoy affection in a sincere friendship? In as much, I spend stressful moments in a state of angst, devising things I can do, or ways I can facilitate her integration with others. I try to do everything I can so I can enable just one single bond.

I’ve learned, however, that sometimes the best thing I can do as a parent is nothing at all. Settle down, stand back and allow the genuine innocence of other children to flourish in crafting a special friendship of its own.

Such is the lesson from a lively and delightful boy who celebrated his sixth birthday recently. I’ve learned he’s always keeping a tender eye on my daughter Linleigh at school. He visits her in her classroom, donning her with his artwork. He stands in the rain with her after the school day ends until he knows she’s picked up safely. And he worries about her when she doesn’t show up for school.

A short time ago he invited Linleigh to his birthday party. As we arrived, he welcomed her at the door with a huge smile and an eagerness to steal her away from me to push her around with his other friends. Just watching his candid exchanges with her, it was obvious he takes no pity on her and doesn’t feel sorry for her, but appreciates her for her.

young boy and girl looking out large window
Linleigh and her friend at his birthday party.

At one point in time I lost sight of the two of them. I peeked around the facility and ultimately discovered just the two of them alone together in silence, sharing a view from the big windows. He had rested his leg on the wheel of her wheelchair and held an arm around her head, oblivious to the medical equipment between them. Though no words were spoken, I feel they shared so much with each other. And at that moment I was reminded not to ever underestimate the boundless love of a child’s very essence. I vividly began to understand that my daughter will have genuine buddies. She will enjoy authentic friendship. She will be loved.

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Originally published: March 9, 2016
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