One prominent challenge for people with special/medical needs is maintaining age-appropriate relationships. This is particularly true for those with developmental or cognitive challenges.
Friends are the family you choose. They are with you in good times and bad. They provide you with companionship, encouragement, advice, and allies. They remind you of your strengths when you are feeling low. They make you laugh and help you make up your mind. When you need something or someone, they are there. Humans are social animals and our friends are our pack.
I am blessed with many wondrous friends. They are smart, fun, interesting, kind, generous, thoughtful people. When I am having a bad day, just knowing I will get to see one of them is a boom to my spirits. Friends are essential and I wanted that for Constance. As a result, I took Constance’s playdates very seriously.
Constance’s preschool, Cherry, has this saying, “You can’t say that you can’t play.” It is the spirit of inclusion in a form that is relatable to children. When Constance was at Cherry, friendships were easier. I invited all of Constance’s classmates to her birthday parties and attempted to arrange playdates with as many children as possible.
When Constance graduated from Cherry, she was at a private program where she had no classmates. While she had daily social activities there with other children, HIPPA prevented the program from giving me the other children’s parents’ contact information. I asked the program to provide my contact information to the other parents in case they wanted to have playdates. I don’t know if they did but I never heard back from any of them.
I tried organizing playgroups by posting flyers at local grocery stores or on neighborhood Listservs. I received no responses.
A local neighborhood group that had couples and kids’ activities was a bust when I couldn’t scare up a Mr. to join Constance and me. Her father was traveling for work at the time. For brevity, I won’t list the innumerable reasons why men might not want to join me in on a group playdate with my one-year-old.
Several of my friends have children. Their kids went on playdates with Constance. We took them to parks, beaches, pools, hiking trails, libraries, indoor play centers, stores, gyms, backyards, and everywhere in between. Those playdates provided Constance with a social life.
Some of my friends’ children have special/medical needs and some of them don’t. They were all kind to Constance. I’m grateful for those memories.
Since Constance passed I signed up for a buddy with Best Buddies. They are a nonprofit that pair cognitively different individuals with similar interests together for friendships. With their matchmaking, I hope to gain a new friend with cognitive/developmental challenges. I have a friend now who has medical needs and I hope to make another.
I would be remiss if I didn’t end this post by saying thank you to my friends who have helped me through the last 148 days. Thank you for giving me support, kindness, and compassion. Hugs and love to all of you.