Finding Ninee » Sharing our parenting and special needs stories with heart and humor.

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.

  • Jessica - Good for those kids, and good for Ryan’s mom! Open communication is so important to help us understand one another. Once we understand, it’s easier to accept. I hope more talks like this happen. 🙂 Great post, Dana!July 17, 2013 – 10:38 amReplyCancel

  • Kerri - This is why I not only adore you, but hero worship you. What a freaking awesome son you have grown. I think it is beyond incredible that Ryan’s mom took the honest approach at a young age to educate his peers that while he may have autism it doesn’t mean he can’t have friends. And that his school was supportive of her efforts. I wish we could all have been flies on the wall that day.

    I think he is incredibly lucky to have such a supportive environment. And his posse rocks!July 17, 2013 – 10:40 amReplyCancel

  • Jessica Smock - This is so lovely. I wish more kids — boys with and without autism — would have this experience. As a teacher, I can’t help but wish that I had encouraged more parents to speak to the class like Ryan’s mom did. That sounds like such a wonderful idea.July 17, 2013 – 10:42 amReplyCancel

  • Janine Huldie - This was truly a wonderful story and so happy to hear that these children accepted Ryan just as he was. Really have seen the gamete as a teacher of children with all sorts of disabilities, but the story you have shared makes me know that there is still such good out there in our youth. Thank you for reminding me this here today!July 17, 2013 – 10:51 amReplyCancel

  • Kristi Campbell - Jessica,
    I agree hurray for Ryan’s mom! I hope more talks like this happen and plan to have the same one in a few years (Dana, if Ryan’s mom would like to share what she said, I’d love to hear it).


    Jessica Smock,
    I wish more kids would have this experience, too.

    I love that they accepted him!
    July 17, 2013 – 11:13 amReplyCancel

  • Dana - Jessica – thank you! Ryan’s mom is awesome.

    Kerri – I adore you too. And you’re right, the whole posse rocks – it is a great group of boys.

    Jessica Smock – Both of my kids were lucky enough to have that first grade teacher. She was one of the best in a school full of great teachers.

    Janine – You’re right – there are so many great kids out there, and they don’t get the mentions they deserve!

    Kristi – Thanks for letting me share my story. I hope you don’t mind my responding to the comments, it’s a habit I don’t want to break!July 17, 2013 – 12:04 pmReplyCancel

  • Kim - I loved this story – thank you for sharing. I love when kids learn early in life that people are all different and that isn’t a bad thing!!July 17, 2013 – 12:10 pmReplyCancel

  • Emily - If only more kids were as open-minded and accepting as your son James. What a wonderful post, showing that just a little empathy and understanding goes a long, long way. Your story gives so many of us hope — that our own children with special needs will have meaningful friendships and people who “have their back” throughout their lives.July 17, 2013 – 1:28 pmReplyCancel

  • Katia - Dana, so good to see you here and I think your post is what Our Land is all about. The way James and the other kids never questioned Ryan’s belonging with them is how it should be and you found the perfect words to voice this. I love this series, I love the writers you introduce every week, Kristi, and I love how this post made me feel!July 17, 2013 – 1:36 pmReplyCancel

  • Considerer - Dana, you wrote this so beautifully that I saw Ryan the way I *should* be seeing him – as a person first. It’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing people through their conditions and you did a marvellous job of writing this.

    Your son is a credit to you. I can offer no higher praise.July 17, 2013 – 1:50 pmReplyCancel

  • Shay - I adore you, Miss Kristi, and I adore Dana, so to have you both in the same spot was just awesome. What a wonderful, sweet post. I think so many people can learn from this!July 17, 2013 – 3:19 pmReplyCancel

  • Tamara - Wonderful. James is simply awesome! My Scarlet has a very close friend with autism. She has no clue and to be honest, I don’t really either, but then again I don’t live with him and see what his parents see. I hope she grows up as well-adjusted as James. I really do. It’s a tough world out there and I know she will suffer at times and I hope that she won’t add to anyone else’s suffering.July 17, 2013 – 3:40 pmReplyCancel

  • Dana - Kim – Thank you! Meeting and knowing Ryan has been so great for my son in so many ways.
    Emily – you’re right, a little empathy goes a long way; thank you for your kind words!
    Katia – It was a feel-good post to write, too. I’ve always wanted to write about the boys, and Krist’s series was the perfect place to do it!
    Lizzi – I can’t tell you how wonderful your comment made me feel. Thank you.
    Shay – Adoration back at ya – thank you!
    Tamara – It’s been a joy to watch the boys’ friendship change and grow as they have matured. I hope Scarlet’s friendship continues – it is such a blessing for both kids.July 17, 2013 – 3:59 pmReplyCancel

  • Roshni AaMom - That’s just wonderful, Dana! More and more, I think it’s we adults who complicate things! If only we could get back to receiving information of diversity as simply and openly as children do! 🙂July 17, 2013 – 6:04 pmReplyCancel

  • Lisa @ The Golden spoons - That’s so awesome!! I love this story. Our world needs more kids like James! I hope that, if given the opportunity, my girls would be just a s accepting of someone with different abilities!July 17, 2013 – 6:36 pmReplyCancel

  • Emily Wright Rice - Wonderful story! Wonderful kids! Wonderful parents!
    Cheers!July 17, 2013 – 7:53 pmReplyCancel

  • Jen - This is such an amazing post. I wish I knew what she said. I am working on a letter to give all the other moms of our homeschooling group about Isaiah. I don’t know how to communicate to them that his differences are because of a disorder. That he’s still a kid who loves to play and have fun, but sometimes he gets overwhelmed and over stimulated. I want them to have patience without seeing him as different or an outsider. Ryan is a very lucky boy to have your son!July 17, 2013 – 9:44 pmReplyCancel

  • Dana - Lisa- my guess is your girls would be accepting – I think it’s innate, and kids unlearn it as they get older.
    Jen – I will ask Ryan’s mom if she remembers what she said. It was so long ago! But I know her talk with the kids really paved the way for accepting Ryan for who is he, and looking past the differences to see the witty, fun, and happy kid who could be their friend.July 17, 2013 – 10:03 pmReplyCancel

  • Sarah Almond - This post made me think of my son. He does not have a diagnosis outside of his ADD, but he has always been suspected of being on the spectrum. I hope that he can someday find some friends who just accept him for who he is. Thank you for sharing this Dana, and thank you Kristi for continuing to host this series!July 17, 2013 – 11:00 pmReplyCancel

  • Deb @ Urban Moo Cow - Such a lovely story! You should be so proud of the compassionate soon you are raising.July 17, 2013 – 11:21 pmReplyCancel

  • Out One Ear - You son is awesome. It must be because of the way he was raised. Your story put on smile on my face this evening. Maybe, someday, all kids will be like James. Let’s hope so. Thank you, Dana.July 18, 2013 – 3:42 amReplyCancel

  • Don Re - Love it. Kids are much cooler than we give them credit for a lot of times. I coached a tball team of boys and one of the kids has down’s syndrome. You’d never know it from our team though. He’s just one of the gang as far as the other 4 year olds are concerned. It’s cool to witness.July 18, 2013 – 5:10 amReplyCancel

  • Ilene - I love this post so much! Especially the sentiment that not everyone needs to be just like you to be your friend. I love that as young children James was able to appreciate what made Ryan unique. If all of us could only maintain the ability to embrace that as we got older.July 18, 2013 – 8:36 amReplyCancel

  • thedoseofreality - I love this post. I hope they stay friends, too…it sounds like they will. :)-AshleyJuly 18, 2013 – 8:48 amReplyCancel

  • Mo at Mocadeaux - Kristi, love this series!

    And Dana, what a beautiful story of true friendship. I think all these boys are lucky because they clearly live in homes where kindness and respect are valued. Even as the members of the posse branch out in different directions, the comfort of friendship and acceptance will follow Ryan throughout his life.July 18, 2013 – 10:59 amReplyCancel

  • Michelle Kantor Nahom - This is such a wonderful story! I love that their friendship continues…you have a great kid!July 18, 2013 – 1:08 pmReplyCancel

  • Muses from the deep - I am glad the kids dug beneath the surface to find true friendship that really lasts. A glass of champagne to them!July 18, 2013 – 2:52 pmReplyCancel

  • Stephanie @ Mommy, for Real. - Wow, Dana. This made me want to cry. You must be so proud of your son. It makes me sad to say that his character is extraordinary, you know what I mean? I wish that everyone was as loving, brave, and accepting as your son. I wish that it wasn’t notable, that he wasn’t outstanding or out of the ordinary. But it is, and at the very least, I am happy that there are kids like yours in the world. And happy for you, because you are obviously an excellent mother who is very grateful for her incredible son.July 18, 2013 – 3:36 pmReplyCancel

  • Kate Spencer - Dana, I’m sure you are so proud of your son. It’s wonderful to hear about that type of compassion.July 18, 2013 – 3:37 pmReplyCancel

  • Anita @ Losing Austin - Chills.

    I pray that I’m raising my sons in a way that they truly know that your friends don’t have to be just like you, and to know that even as you get older, you will always have your friend’s backs.July 18, 2013 – 7:14 pmReplyCancel

  • Dana - Sarah – I hope your son finds friends as great as the boys in my community – we are very fortunate.
    Deb – Thank you! I’m very proud of my boy.
    Ilene – If only…and hopefully these boys will.
    Ashley – They just hung out together today, so I hope they will too!
    Mo – You’re so right – beautifully said.
    Stephanie – I know exactly what you mean. The amazing thing is that in that group of boys, James is not extraordinary – all the kids are just regular boys who love being pals.
    Anita – You just raise them the best you can and hope it sticks, right? That’s all we can do.July 18, 2013 – 7:35 pmReplyCancel

  • Melissa - This story makes me Incredibly happy! I have a 17 yr old nephew who is autistic, and sadly he doesn’t have any friends. He never found that special person who would accept him as he is. His only friend is his 3 yr old sister. My sister had to pull him out of public school in middle school because of bullying. She placed him into a private catholic school where he endured that same bullying. After a year of that she pulled him out of school to do virtual schooling where he wouldn’t be tormented. It breaks my heart that he doesn’t have any normalcy of a teenage life. He’s always at home. Always!July 19, 2013 – 1:33 amReplyCancel

  • Leah Elizabeth Locklear - Hello Dana thank you for sharing this inpspirational story. I found you through #LOBS! It’s a wonderful thing when people from two differnt walks of life can join together and form a bond! What a wonderful story! ~Leah~July 19, 2013 – 11:50 amReplyCancel

  • Lisa Newlin - Aw, what an amazing story. It’s a testament to what a great kid Ryan is, but it’s also a testament as to what a great kid James is too. You should be proud of him. 🙂July 20, 2013 – 1:15 amReplyCancel

  • Rachel Demas - As an elementary school special educator, it has been my experience that kids are much more accepting of difference than adults, and that even goes for the fifth and sixth graders. I liked how you said something like, “he recognized the difference, but it wasn’t good or bad.” That is just so awesome. It’s a gift that kids give to us!July 20, 2013 – 1:16 amReplyCancel

  • Kenya G. Johnson - So beautiful! Goosebumps from this point on ” But as the kids approached adolescence, the boys maintained their friendships…” I would hope that my son would be a James for someone.July 20, 2013 – 10:30 amReplyCancel

  • Joy - So beautiful! I just love this post!July 23, 2013 – 2:42 amReplyCancel

  • Jak - Thank you for sharing this story, Dana. It’s incredibly touching.

    I really think his mother going into class to talk to the other students was a big factor. The younger the awareness the better, so the likelihood of negative perceptions developing is lessened. I’m glad your son is still friends with him, and I hope they continue that friendship throughout the years!

    Jak at The Cryton Chronicles & Dreams in the Shade of InkJuly 23, 2013 – 9:08 amReplyCancel

  • Dana - Melissa – I’m sorry your nephew has struggled to make friends. I hope he will make a connection – it only takes one.
    Leah – Thank you! The boys are an inspiration; I smile every time I see them together.
    Kenya – “that my son would be a James for someone…” That is the best compliment for my boy – thank you!
    Joy – thank you for reading!
    Jak – I completely agree about Ryan’s mom’s talk being a game changer. And the boys had a sleepover two nights ago, so their friendship is still going strong!July 24, 2013 – 5:46 pmReplyCancel

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