My daughter Jordynn has never asked me this question, but I see it in her eyes when her sister gets calls for playdates from her friends and Jordynn does not. As a mom I am torn. Having two children on varying positions on the autistic spectrum, they have different needs and abilities. I celebrate the social connectedness each has developed with their peers and of course don’t want to stifle the growth of one child for the sake of the other. At the same time, however I don’t want either of my children to feel left out or unwanted repeatedly.
I have tried various approaches to address this challenge. I have sent Jocelynn on playdates with her friends alone while Jordynn did a fun activity with her dad or me. I have also, invited friends over to our house to participate in activities to also include Jordynn. In the end I always feel I have not yet struck the proper balance during these experiences and Jordynn is more like a third wheel.
While Jordynn’s expressions of disappointment have been limited, but my heart still aches for her nonetheless. I wonder to myself, Will she have her own “friends”? Will she have genuine invitations to attend social events? What will happen when the day comes that neither her father nor I are around anymore?
Jordynn has connected with other peers at school and at camp, but none of those connections have extended beyond those settings. Jordynn does not get regular phone calls or texts from friends, nor does she get invitations to attend birthday parties, or just to hangout.
On the other hand, Jocelynn does while Jordynn hangs out with her parents. I love spending time with my children, but I believe I have an obligation to provide both of them with the opportunity to form meaningful connections with others beyond just that of an acquaintance. This of course it no easy charge.
This past weekend Jocelynn was invited to go on a movie date with two of her friends from school. Jocelynn was SO excited to be hanging out with her BFFs that she never noted her sister would not be included. I have to admit I did not win any “Mommy of the Year” Awards that day. After dropping off Jocelynn over her friend’s house, Jordynn and I picked up sushi (which she loves) and a movie from Redbox and headed home. While she enjoyed her sushi and movie I was busy doing work I had. Jordynn didn’t seem sad or appear to mind this arrangement; she never expressed any feelings of disappointment, but I felt a tug on my heart whenever I looked over at her. I was thankful Jordynn was content, but couldn’t help but feel I should have been doing more.
On flip side I was elated that Jocelynn had connected with other young ladies that had a true interest in hanging out with her. Jocelynn was so incredibly happy about the playdate that she packed a bag full of things for her and the girls to do (i.e. fingernail polish, craft kits, card games, and the like) days before the scheduled date. Inside I smiled to see how far she has traveled since being the little girl who liked to play next to other kids rather than with them, or just to played by herself.
Regardless if you are the parent of a child with special needs or not I assume you too have been faced with a challenge similar to mine. I felt it would be good for me to share my persisting dilemma. Perhaps you have suggestions for me, or your own story to share. I welcome your feedback, comments and/or recommendations.