Our Land – Just one of the boys
Some of you may know that on Wednesdays, I feature a variety of voices chosen specifically to make us think, wonder, and appreciate differing viewpoints and abilities. The Our Land Series is a collection of these view points, and a place where empathy and wonder rule.
This week, I’m proud to feature my good friend Dana from Kiss My List. Dana is funny, loves mushrooms, and dislikes spelling errors. As in, how can you not adore her? Seriously, she’s genuine, smart, and believes that life is better with a good pair of shoes. She was kind enough to contribute these words to Our Land. I’m confident that you’ll adore her as much as I do. And want her son to be your friend.
Just One of The Boys
My son James met Ryan for the first time when the boys’ older sisters had play dates. They were five years old, and James and I both immediately liked Ryan. He had a dry sense of humor and an enthusiasm for living and playing that was unmatched by any of James’ other peers. James intuitively knew there was something different about Ryan, but different wasn’t good or bad – it just was.
A year later, the boys were in the same first grade class. Early in the year, Ryan’s mother visited the class and spoke with them about autism, in a way that six year olds could understand. I wish I had been in the classroom, because whatever she said made such an impact on Ryan’s peers. My son had a friend who was not quite like his other friends, and now he knew why. And for most of those kids, that was enough.
So Ryan has autism. So he plays a little differently, speaks a little differently, behaves a little differently. So what.
That “so what” could have become an issue as the boys got older. Kids choose their own friends, and children that were accepted in first grade are excluded in fifth grade. But that did not happen. Maybe it was Ryan’s mom’s talk, or that group of boys and girls, or Ryan himself. Most likely it was a combination of all three. But as the kids approached adolescence, the boys maintained their friendships and found more to love about Ryan. Instead of just seeing what made him different, they saw his brilliant one liners. They wore the funny nicknames Ryan gave them with pride instead of derision. They just hung out together, like tween boys do.
James wasn’t in any classes with Ryan in middle school this year. I suspect that will be the way it is from here on out. But the same group of boys still sit together at lunch, and I know that this posse will always have Ryan’s back. They like him for who he is, and they know he’s pretty awesome. James has told me that if he ever saw anyone picking on or teasing Ryan, he wouldn’t stand for it – he would stick up for Ryan just like he would stick up for any of his other friends. And I’m pretty sure Ryan would have James’ back too.
I know Ryan has a tougher road than the rest of his friends. I know his parents have worked tirelessly to get him the services he needs, and to give him opportunities for friendships with his peers. As the mother of children without diagnoses, I can only imagine the challenges Ryan faces and will continue to face with his family by his side. I do not want to minimize these challenges, but I do want to celebrate the camaraderie and friendship that has formed among this wonderful group of boys.
While they don’t have play dates anymore, James still considers Ryan his buddy. I hope their friendship continues throughout middle and high school, and I have no reason to think that it won’t. James knows Ryan has autism, and he is more aware of what that means than he was in first grade. But it’s just part of who he is, and not everyone has to be just like you to be your friend.
Dana is using her Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology to stay at home and raise two brilliant and well adjusted children. Never without a project, Dana started her blog, Kiss My List, as a way to channel her slightly obsessive energy. She’s the next great novelist, stand up comic, fashionista, and interior decorator all trapped in the body and life of a suburban mom. And least that’s how she’s sees it in her head.
I told you guys that Dana was awesome. Here’s to creating a billion clone-James to accept a billion different Ryans. Special needs, autism, accepting friends that are different, and empathy – key. Cheers, Dana, for raising an awesome boy.