Saturday, November 8, 2008

Social Rejection

In some ways it was easier when VeeGee had her trach, because there was a clear outward "signal" that something was different. Now, without it and because of the jaw distraction, only her size signals something different (until someone speaks to her, of course). What we were noticing tonight is how she just doesn't try to communicate with her peers verbally. Her only words are "uh huh" AND "uh uh."

So someone asked, “Can you find some other families with special needs children for your child to make friends with?” Well, you know, that can be problematic for several reasons. One of the main issues, for us, is that we want her to be able to mimic the speech of typical kids as opposed to other kids who, like her, have a difficult time speaking. Also, well, I'd like her to be able to live in the "real world" and not a little enclave of SN people. Besides, the spectrum of special needs is as broad as the spectrum of typical people - so it's not like you can "go shopping" for someone who is just like your kid.

I know that wasn't mean to be offensive, but, I have to say, it kind of was.

For the record, VeeGee has always been in a school with 50-50 kids with SN and "typical" kids. I am most certainly NOT living in any sort of fantasy world about that (well, beyond the occasional, "Wow, this is our reality" kind of thing that, I'm guessing, is something at least SOME of us feel at times).

One thing that I think informs my feelings on this subject is the fact that I have a 16 year old brother who has Down Syndrome and I have seen him in both sorts of situations: inclusive and not. He spent his first thirteen years in schools that were completely special needs oriented - though my parents worked very hard to have him involved in extra-curricular activities where he could also be around "typical" kids. Now he is in a school that is primarily a typical school, and he has a few peers who have special needs.

What I have seen, firsthand, is the way that he has really thrived in both environments, though, now, as he grows older, it is entirely appropriate for his world to begin to expand to include all types of people because - fact of the matter: he will have to live in the "real world" at some point (hopefully!).

As to the quality of relationships that he experiences, and the concern about their potential superficiality, I think, truly, that he experiences most relationships just as they are. He most definitely has real reciprocal relationships with typical kids. They are no more "superficial" than the relationships most people have with each other. Obviously, they are different than the relationship two typical teenaged boys would have with each other, but I don't think they are qualitatively less mutual or rewarding.

I am not looking for my daughter's friends to be her therapists. I am, like any mother, hoping that she will be able to learn good things from her friends. All mothers, I think, try to facilitate relationships for their children which they think can benefit them. Why is it wrong for me to want my dd to be around children who are modeling a strength/skill which she lacks? That doesn't put any onus or burden on her friends to be anything other than exactly who they are. F what it's worth, VeeGee's two "best friends" (insofar as kids her age have "best friends") are typical girls who, somehow, understand her attempts at language. They play and "talk" to each other.

I don't disagree that it is/will be important for her to be around and have the support of other children with disabilities. She gets plenty of that even now through her daily therapies (several of which involve group play) and through playdates and whatnot. I'm not trying to pretend that she's not disabled - that would be virtually impossible - I just want her to have access to as many types of friends as she can have - black, white, special needs, disabled, typical.

We were at a party the other day with some of VeeGee's typical friends. I'm noticing the deepening chasm between her ability to communicate and theirs. It's making her more and more awkward. One on one she does really well with typical kids, but in this particular situation (which was uncommonly frenetic - a birthday party in a very small house, with no outside access) she just defaulted to "playing monster/tiger" and chasing the kiddos around. It was cute at first, but then dh and I both realized that it was continuing because VeeGee just didn't have any other way to interact with the other girls there. Cognitively, she functions on their level, which is what makes this harder, I think. So, we're wondering, "does she know that they're ahead of her verbally? How might that make her feel?"

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