The following essay is a moving reflection of a mother’s observations of her son who has special needs and the challenges he faces with inter-personal relationships. We hope it will give our readers pause to consider the ways in which all of us can be friends to the neediest among us.
There is so much talk about the importance of friendships and human interaction. The research says human connections are vital to healthy living and longevity. The average person has no problem connecting. The shy person will get support from his family. The disabled person will get support from his caregivers and teachers. But what if you don’t look like you are disabled? What if you just can’t think or speak as fast as the person next to you.
Do you know what it is like to stand in a room or in a pod of people, people all around you, and no one talks to you? You try to talk to them but because it’s hard for you to formulate quick, wry responses, and because you aren’t as quick thinking as the other people in the room, backs are turned on you as people walk away. They move on before you are able to get your sentence out. You move too, with the movement of the room, thinking you are still part of the scene. You are shunned by the very people who spend hours each day in the same room with you. But you don’t know it.
Do you know what it is like to never get a call for a day out with friends because your complete being never reaches the active, conscious thought of the people who are in the room with you, six to seven hours a day? When someone finally acknowledges your existence with a wave of the hand or a simple, “hello”, and that is all, do you know that now you are a best friend for this person? Best friends are people who consider the other person’s views. Best friends spend lots of time talking on the phone, writing notes, texting, reaching out to each other because there is a connection. Best friends pick you up when you fall. Or best friends fall with you when you fall. However, for this person, a best friend is the person who just says “hi.” That “hi” makes this person feel included, and now befriended.
Consider the people who only get to view life as it is happening around them. Pure spectators. But because they are in the room, or in the huddle, or watching the people who said “hi” to them, they feel included. The extent of their human interaction is a simple two letter word, “hi.” The kindness of that little interaction is heartfelt. Ask the girl who never stopped saying “hi’ to him. She occasionally also adds “How are you doing?” He’s been known to buy presents and pass them to her through her siblings. And the note always says “Thank you for being my friend.” I am not sure she understands how seriously happy she makes him for that day or that week. When you have no other friends, a “hi” will do it.
Consider that this person has no control over the fact that during his first year of life he had so many seizures, a part of his brain atrophied because of the sheer electric waves pummeling his brain for an entire week. After thousands of hours of every therapy imaginable over the years, and with the sheer determination of teachers, coaches, Boy Scout leaders, and unending faith in God, he can do everything you can do. Except be invited to a party. Except be included in a serious conversation — unless it’s in a classroom where a teacher knows his strengths and engages him — with his peers.
How do we decide we will befriend someone? How do we decide we will share moments in time with a person who does not fit so well in our little pod? Look around. Consider those who are forgotten, shunned, ignored. Consider that we’re all in this together. One day you might be this person. Will you know what to say?
This person is my son. Might you get to know him?