***Disclaimer: I didn’t write this to get sympathy at all. I didn’t write this so I could get a bunch of “she could be homecoming queen, you never know!” comments. I also don’t want any of my IRL friends to feel guilty, etc., because of this post. Please! I wrote this because I know there are SO many people out there who are feeling the exact same way and I know it feels good to not be alone.***
I felt it starting in fourth grade. The gradual pulling away of Olivia’s friends. Sure, there were still a couple of birthday invitations each year. I was never 100% sure if it was truly that the girl wanted Olivia invited or if the Mom encouraged it, but I was pleased by it nonetheless. But I could still feel it. The other girls were growing up. They were interested in One Direction and playing sports and iphones and cute boys and less interested in trying to play with Olivia. She was also in class with them for fewer hours each day. The gap between them academically and socially continued to grow. It made my heart hurt. I missed hearing about the girls playing games with Olivia at recess. I missed having girls stop by to jump with her on the trampoline or watch a movie in her room. I ached when I walked into the cafeteria and saw her eating alone. There might have been kids physically next to her at the lunch table, but she was still alone.
I understood it. I knew it would happen. But it still hurt. Olivia didn’t seem to notice or mind, but then I’m never 100% sure if that’s true. She has decent verbal skills but I know she has trouble expressing her emotions. What if it really was bothering her but she couldn’t find the words to express that emotion to me? Isn’t feeling lonely when you’re not alone difficult to describe as a grown-up? Isn’t feeling left-out a pretty abstract emotion?
I was really hoping junior high would be a kickstart to rekindling some old friendships and making some new ones. So far, that hasn’t happened. I know, even as kind-hearted and wonderful as some of them may be, junior high kids are very self-centered. It doesn’t make them wrong, it doesn’t make them bad, it just makes them adolescents. Olivia sits with her aide and the other kids with special needs at lunch. She’s only in two regular education classes. She goes to Spirit Club after school once a month and hangs out with…her aide and the other kids with special needs. The “typical” kids say hi but they don’t go out of their way to include her. I’m not sure why I was hoping they would, because honestly it would be unusual if they did, but I did any way. And I’ve been disappointed.
I’ve been trying to think of ways I can help. But there aren’t any. I could invite girl after girl after girl over to our house and do the most fun things and have the best snacks, but that still wouldn’t make them think to go sit by Olivia at lunch or ask her over to play or hang out with her at Spirit Club. And that’s ok. That’s normal. I was just hoping for more.
But as I reflect on it, I have to focus on Olivia. Does she seem happy? 100% yes. She LOVES going to school each day. In fact, we’ve never seen her so excited for school. Each and every single day she says her day was “terrific” and “fantastical” and “GRRRRREEEAAAAT!!!”. So who the hell cares if she sits by herself at lunch? Who the hell cares if she doesn’t hang out with friends ever? Who the hell cares if she hangs with her aide and other friends who have special needs at Spirit Club? If she’s happy, who the hell cares??
I did. But now I don’t as much. Does it bother me still? Of course. Do I wish she was typical so she could text on her iphone and beg me to wear those short shorts everyone is wearing and go to football games on Friday nights with friends? You betcha. But the reality is, she’s not. Those things aren’t going to happen. And I need to be OK with the fact that she’s happy. She loves her friends at school who have special needs. I’m trying to figure out ways to foster those relationships outside of school, but, again, isn’t it just fine if they’re just friends at school? What’s wrong with that? Nothing at all.
You know who Olivia’s best friends are? Me, Matt, my Mom, Gabe and Matthew. You know who she’d pick to hang out with on any given night? Us. You know who she’d rather watch a movie with or eat dinner with or go to a football game with? Us. I’m 99.999% sure she is 150% happy with her life. So why am I so worried about it? Because, even after 12.5 years, it’s still a damn hard pill to swallow.
These realizations have really helped me cope. It’s so damn difficult to watch your child with special needs be excluded. Whether they care about it or not, it’s hard to digest. But it’s reality. It is what it is, as Matt always says. And he’s right. She has special needs. She has friends at school and us at home. She’s happy. And that has got to be enough.