A few weeks ago I received a message on facebook from a Mom whose daughter is in Brian’s regular education classroom. She said that her daughter really liked the time she spent with him and wanted to know if she could come over to play sometime.
I know this is going to sound lame, but I almost cried.
Brian has never had someone actively seek out to have a play date with him. Yes, we’ve had friends over to play before and we meet friends out at the playground or the beach at times. But that’s different. That’s me making plans with their moms because I want to spend time with another adult. That’s Corbin having friends who are kind enough to also pay attention to Brian when they are over. That is not someone wanting to come over just to spend time with Brian.
I was counting down the days. It was written in huge letters on our calendar. I bought popsicles and new craft items. I cleaned Brian’s room and dug out toys I thought would interest the both of them. I told anyone and everyone that would listen that Brian had a play date.
And I was nervous. What if Brian refused to change out of his pajamas? What if we had some issues with the bathroom while she was over? What if the only thing he wanted to do was watch the same two minutes of Over The Hedge repeatedly? What if he didn’t even acknowledge she was over?
The morning of the big day we reminded Brian that his friend was coming over to play. He was so excited. He even changed out of his pajamas with no complaint. He kept skipping and jumping and laughing. We asked him why he was excited and with a little prompting wrote the sentence, “My friend is coming to play”, on his new communication device.
When they knocked on the door, he ran to the door and pulled it open himself and greeted the little girl and her Mom.
He pressed the button on his device to tell her, “My friend is coming to play.”
I still wondered how long it would last. I had told her Mom that just an hour would be good so we didn’t push our luck.
However, he never faltered. He wanted to be around his friend and engage with her. They made a craft together, sat on the porch to eat popsicles, played with his Playmobil zoo, read books, and had a ball pit war. He used his device to let her know what he wanted to do. And no matter how amazing he was, she matched it by being the most kind and patient nine-year-old I may have ever met.
The next day at school, in the middle of the day, completely unprompted he looked at his teacher and asked for the friend by name. His teacher took him down the hall to his regular education classroom where he used his device to greet her. She was excited and honored that he wanted to come say hi, and he was happy to have someone to go say hi to.
A question on those evaluations I have to fill out at least once every three years is, “Does your child have friends outside of family?”. That question always makes me tear up as I answer, “No”. Kids love Brian, they’ve always been kind to him, but no one has ever called for a play date or pushed for anything more than the interaction they receive at school.
I’m not sure this little girl or her parents know what this play date meant for us. Inclusion is like this magical world us special-needs parents strive for and dream about. We push for it in school, we push for it in sports, we push for it at public outings…but it doesn’t work unless those “typical” families and people push from the other direction and meet us in the middle.
She made Brian feel included. She made our family feel included. He now has a friend he can ask for at school. He is just a third grader with a friend.