Learning to Befriend Those with Special Needs

There are so many things in our culture that seem to be getting worse, not better, when it comes to intolerance of one another’s differences. Just read the news this summer. However, I found a little glimmer of hope for change from a group of four adolescent boys at our neighborhood pool.

These boys were probably between nine and twelve years old. They had come to the pool to play a game of 21 in the water. They were about to start their game when a younger boy came bobbing along, barely able to keep his head above the water, and asked if he could play. He was a sight. Struggling to swim and talk at the same time. He obliviously made his way right into the middle of their court with his big nerdy snorkeling mask on.

Instantly I thought I could predict the four boys pushing him off, ignoring him, being annoyed with him. They didn’t and they weren’t. They patiently asked how old he was and asked if he knew how to play. Of course he didn’t, but he still lingered like a little brother. They tried hard to not be annoyed and problem solve their situation.

One of the kids said more subtly to the other three, “Hey, that kid has special needs. Yeah, I really think he does.”

He didn’t. I’ve seen him and his family at the pool before. He was just your average awkward little kid. What was remarkable to me was that, even though they thought he did have special needs, they didn’t alienate him, intimidate him, or shun him. They didn’t make jokes or get scared of his presumed differences. They even accepted when he offered his ball as an alternative to the football they were trying to use to make baskets. He confidently said, “This ball would probably work better.” The oldest one said, “Hey, it actually would. Thanks!”

The little boy’s mom eventually encouraged him to play on the other side of the pool while the big boys played their game of water basketball. After the game, one of the big boys even came over to dive with him and play on his floating toy.

Even though this kid didn’t actually have special needs, I was impressed by how these four boys treated him, while all along thinking he did.

Shortly after Nathan was diagnosed I remember one of my friends whose daughter has Down syndrome say, “You’ll be amazed at how well other kids will treat him. It’s not like how it was when we were kids.”

I hope that’s true. I hope that kids today are learning how to befriend, or at least, accept others with disabilities. I hope that one day Nathan will encounter kids like these who are kind. While people all across our country seem to be warring about who’s better and who’s worse, these four boys were giving this little kid a decent amount of respect and kindness at the pool the other week.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” – Colossians 3: 12

My book, Beauty in Broken Dreams: A Hopeful Handbook for the Early Years as a Special Needs Parent, is now available on Amazon!

Also be sure to check out my list of Favorite Books on Disability!

#friends #friendship

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