Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Hard Stuff

CJ has beaten the odds.  On so many levels, he's a success story that will be told for years to come.  He's such an odds beater (is that even a word?) that his case has been used as a model for early intervention providers back in TX.  On all the measurable levels, CJ's story has had the ending that every provider could ever ask for.  Great speech, perfect really.  Amazing literacy skills.  Brilliant mind and ability to articulate what's in his goofy little head.  Smart. So very smart.  He's kept up with all of his mainstream peers and then some.  All of these are great things and we are so proud to know that he's done so well despite the challenges placed before him literally since birth.

I have to be honest, though. There are some things that can't really be measured by a standardized test that he has struggled with.  One thing in particular weighs heavily on our minds as his parents and we worry for him. Maybe it's not so much worry as it is that we just wish we could make it easier for him and take the frustration away from him.  Friendshipping.  It's so difficult for CJ to make and keep friends and it's like a knife to our hearts every time we see him hurting.

CJ is a GREAT kid and he would give anything for a good friend who wanted to spend time with him.  Pragmatics is hard for him, though, so he doesn't always "get it" when other kids want to do something different, when they laugh at jokes he doesn't fully understand, or when they have little interest in the things he is interested in.  He tries so hard to impress his friends with facts he's learned and memorized, usually about things like insects, items that only Ripley's Believe It or Not would appreciate, or bodily functions.  The trouble is that other kids his age don't really appreciate CJ's facts.  They also don't enjoy inventing wild creations out of left over "stuff".  Other kids his age, especially the boys, want to run and jump and ride their bikes and have sword fights and, well, CJ doesn't like to do those things partly because his vestibular damage makes it so he really can't.

We watch CJ as he tries to step out of his comfort zone and befriend other children.  He makes small talk, invites them to play with him, and makes funny little gifts to give them.  Most of the time he comes back to us and explains that the other kid didn't want to play with him because they were busy with someone else, doesn't like bugs, or whatever else.  Then he looks up at us and says almost without fail, "They don't really want to play with me, but I'm okay with that."  He puts on a brave front, but we can see him hurting.  He's lonely.

Then there are the kids who take it a step beyond politely declining his offer of friendship.  These are the kids who tease him, make fun of him because he doesn't run as fast or can't ride a bike, tell him they'll be his friend if he gives them this, that, or the other.  He's so eager to make friends that he will literally give the shirt off his back, the lunch from his tray, or the homework from his backpack only to have the kid tell him thank you and walk away with whatever treasure they've taken.  These are the kids who play with him for a little while until someone better comes along, so they turn on a dime and laugh at him before going off to play something better with someone more fun.  These are the kids that make my heart hurt.

This coming school year makes me nervous.  CJ has one really good friend at school, and she won't be in his class.  She looks out for him, puts him in his place when she needs to, helps include him in her circle of friends, and she sticks up for him when she sees other children picking on him.  I'm not thrilled about the choice of placement for him next year, and the school knows it. We've discussed it in depth with the principal and next year's teacher.  The teacher thinks she's got a great plan to help all the kids learn about acceptance and respect and blah, blah, blah, but I'm nervous.  Even though we have an amazing teacher for him, the truth is that she can't protect him all the time and that scares me a little bit.

We're adding more pragmatics and social skills to his IEP plan.  (Thank goodness for that! In TX, they'd have dismissed him from speech in kindergarten and he'd never have the chance to develop the language he needs to advocate for himself.)  We're going to look into letting him join the art club and the computer clubs at school even though he's only a third grader and you really have to be in fourth grade. The idea is that these clubs will help him find peers with common interests.  Mostly, we'll be praying. A lot.

The point of this post isn't to dishearten other parents with kids like CJ.  It's to acknowledge the fact that, even though he's beaten the odds and done remarkably well, sometimes there will be hard parts to life no matter what you do.  It's to beg parents to please PLEASE encourage your children to go out of their way to be patient with kids like CJ who really just need a friend.  Actually, you might just find that CJ has quite a bit to give back. He's loyal, funny, full of goofy facts, so loving, smart, kind, talented, and completely accepting of everyone no matter what their faults.

1 comment:

  1. Oh Aimee, my heart hurts with you. I've seen Tate go through similar friend-issues, and it just hurts. Kids can be cruel. How can they not see how awesome our kids are?! Having a strong, loving family supporting him sure helps, though :D

    Julie G