By Anne Fricke
It was a rare Friday afternoon, and we decided to join the throngs of kids at the frozen yogurt shop in town. We went with some friends and waited a half hour in line. Quite a few of Freya’s classmates were there, chatting in small groups and running up to greet each other. Freya went to make her greetings. They would turn a polite smile her way, and then she would take her place on the periphery. After the sugar bombs were consumed, kids left with other families for typical Friday night sleepovers. I took my girls to their gymnastics class, dropped my youngest at her friend’s for a sleepover, and choked back tears as Freya and I drove to meet her Dad for dinner and an art show.
Freya would love to have sleepovers with friends. She has had one so far (that wasn’t with family friends), and that was years ago. I have gone so far as to ask a few parents if they would have her over for a sleepover. They would love to, but they can’t do it this weekend. I don’t know if the parents or kids are saying no.
Freya’s classmates are kind to her (except sometimes for one, but that's a post for another day). They help her when she needs it at school, and I hear that she gets into play fairly well on the playground. But when I pick her up from school, that’s what I see. Politeness. Kindness that doesn’t grow deeper than societal expectation. Tolerance for sure, and inclusion in the activities at hand, but how do you foster an authentic connection?
I firmly believe in inclusion, not just for our kids with unique needs and disabilities, but as a benefit to the ‘typical’ classmates as well. My high school kept us all separated. I never had a friend or classmate with whom I could learn and develop a unique relationship. I don’t want that for my daughter or her classmates. But how do you take inclusion to the next level? How do you foster and nurture relationships between peers when you were also kept from that experience?
Freya knows she is not being asked to sleepovers. She knows she would love to go on one. For now, I’ve given excuses about differing schedules and shared custody dilemmas. I know I could ask someone to sleep over here, and perhaps that’s where I should start. That then creates the possibility of a directly stated no that we would have to process. I keep waiting for some connection to spark, a peer to recognize what a sweet friendship they would gain. I’m not sure that’s going to happen on its own. At least not with these classmates.
I have moments of doubt. Moments of wondering if she wouldn’t fare better in a bigger school with a more diverse population and greater access to kids who are more like her. It is one thing to put her in a mainstream classroom at a public charter school and ask for her to be included. Expecting the kids to relate to her enough to form a connection is another thing.
They have all been together since kindergarten. They have included her, and some take on more big sister/protector-type roles, which I am truly grateful for. But I would love for her to have a friend who lights up when she enters a room. A friend who looks forward to seeing her and wants to create the time to hang out. I want to step beyond inclusion into genuine friendships.
*Addendum: Freya has had one sleepover since I wrote this. She loved it, of course.