As parents of special needs kids, we go for very long periods of time wondering if our kiddos will find a friend to truly bond with. If your situation is in any way similar to mine, your kiddo probably had a couple of good friends in their younger years, since the younger ones seem to over-look your child’s quirks and differences. As they get older, and especially into the middle school years, the bullying is terrible and even the kids that aren’t doing the bullying tend to distance themselves from anyone who is deemed ‘weird’ so they, themselves aren’t put in the bully’s path. It gets to a point where you hope that your child will find a friend, any friend at all. I used to feel that way. I soon learned that I rather have him be the loner kid than to have the wrong friends.
After I remarried, we moved 3 hours away from the one best friend my son, CJ, had since kindergarten. He had to start all over in a new school with new kids. By this point in time, he had an IEP and the teachers removed him from the classroom on a regular basis to take tests or to go to the OT. At 10, he was very aware that he was different from the other kids……and if he wasn’t, they made sure he knew it. It took his school being shut down and merged with another school due to budget cuts, for him to meet a couple of boys that he got along with. At first, I thought this was a wonderful thing. I soon learned that my son wasn’t having as hard of a time with bullies, because these boys WERE the bullies in school. It’s hard when you have a child that wants to be liked so badly, but you know that the kids that he is spending time with aren’t going to be the best influence on him.
I was nervous when we made the decision to move to Georgia. CJ would have to start all over, yet again. This was either going to be disastrous or the best thing for our family, but we wouldn’t know until we tried. Because we still had to sell the house in NY, we initially lived in an apartment complex. My husband moved here a couple of months before my son and I, so he was able to get an apartment before we got here. As soon as we pulled up, I had an uneasy feeling about the place. It was clean and well-maintained, but I just had one of those gut instincts that this place was not going to be a part of our lives for very long. I was right, we only lived there for about 6 months, but in the end it brought my son a very special person in his life.
After living in the apartment for a couple of weeks, CJ had adapted to having playmates right outside his door. Something he had never had before. Most of them were younger, as this was usually the case with my son. We have found that younger kids tend to be less judgemental regarding his behaviors. Even though he was enjoying himself, we had daily drama. Whether it was sensory issues due to tackle football, emotional issues because somebody ‘hated’ him or a complete meltdown because an older group of bullies threw his bike in the lake, every day I had a tear-ridden child walk in my door. That all changed the day he met Megan.
Megan and CJ became fast friends and found solace in each other’s company when the other kids would gang up on them. She started spending a lot of time at our apartment, playing video games or watching movies. I started taking them both roller-skating once a week and she would come for dinner a couple of nights a week. This started my reference to her as our ‘bonus kid’.
When we bought our new home last March, we quickly dubbed our guest room as Megan’s room, since she is the one that utilizes it more often than anyone else. She spends a lot of weekends with us, and she and CJ have started to go to Sunday youth group together. Megan and her mom have both become an extension of our family.
The best thing about CJ and Megan’s friendship is that it is real. His psychologist has met Megan and has said she is the best kind of friend that CJ could have. She calls him out when he is being manipulative or cruel and she makes him own up to his mistakes. She does all of this while appreciating him for who he is. They have come to love each other and act like siblings. They fight and make up on a regular basis, but they always fall back on the strength of their friendship. Their true test of friendship will come when Megan joins us on a 2 week road trip this summer. I think, in the end, they will bond even more over the memories they will make.
After my son’s hospital stay in the fall of 2012, he was just starting at a new middle school. He kept his head down for the first month or so, afraid to meet new people. Just after the Thanksgiving break, CJ started mentioning Dylan. They were mainly school friends for the rest of the year. When summer break started to near, CJ was upset at the thought of not getting to hang out with Dylan every day. He came home one Friday and asked if he could go to a karaoke night at Dylan’s house. It confused me a bit as to why my son with stage-fright wanted to go to a karaoke night, but I said that he could go as long as I met one of Dylan’s parents. That evening I met Dylan and his mom, Juanita, for the first time and little did I know our family had just grown a bit more.
One of the things that CJ had never mentioned to me, probably because it wasn’t important to him, was that Dylan is on the Autism spectrum, along with a host of other diagnoses. Juanita and I quickly bonded over the journeys we both have taken over the years in our efforts to advocate for our sons. Our whole family, including our bonus kid, started participating in weekly karaoke night. Through them, we have met many other families that are going through the same struggles.
In school, CJ and Dylan have become each other’s constant. If one of them is out for some reason, the other one has a hard day. According to their teachers, they have started a healthy competition in regard to getting work done, which has helped them both. Our plan was to have CJ to go to a certain high school in the area, but he has asked me to alter my plans so that he and Dylan could be in high school together. I am still considering this.
Following a manic episode a few weeks ago, I could not help my son feel better. He wanted out of the house. I called Juanita and she told us to come on over. After a few minutes talking to Dylan, CJ was calm and ready to go home. After we got in the car, he took a deep breath and said “Thank you,Mama. Dylan just gets me”.
My wish for all of you is that your kiddos find friends who love them and just ‘get’ them.
I have utilized the kid’s names with permission of their parents.