I remember when Matthew was only a few months old, he was a very handsome child and two of my girlfriends with daughters the same age as Matthew would jockey to try to get their daughters seated next to him at playgroup functions. It was actually pretty comical since they were so young and these moms seemed to want Matthew as a boyfriend for their daughters. But as we got older and Matthew's autism became more apparent he couldn't maintain these friendships, and he didn't care one little bit.
But I did. It broke my heart to watch other children develop normally while my son struggled to do some of the most basic skills such as sit or crawl, clap his hands or engage with my husband and me. I still recall our first Pre-school get-to-know-each-other get together. It was over the summer at a classmate’s home. The parents had set up a bounce house and a small toddler pool. They had activities and games for the children. While the other kids played and began to feel comfortable with one another, Matthew ran along the back fence, stimming on the vertical lines made by the fence slats. We left with me in tears. This was right before we discovered biomedical interventions, and what a difference those interventions have made. That was about 3 and 1/2 years, 2 doctors, 3 schools, multiple ABA therapists and 1 house ago.
Today Matthew went on a field trip to the national dental museum, I chaperoned. I had heard there was a nice young girl in his class that had a special connection with him, but I had never seen them interact. Today I got the chance, and it was absolutely adorable. The girl, I'll call her Candice, couldn't leave him alone. She was hugging him, holding his hand, touching his head and just generally keeping him within arm’s reach. Another mom made a comment to me about how attached they were to each other. I didn't think this was possible, but here he was with a friend that really seemed to enjoy his company, and he, hers. It was a dream come true. His special educator approached me as the children sat and listened to a presentation. She told me how happy Matthew is in class and what a joy he is to work with. I explained that I was still concerned that he would be singled out because of his differences and therefore be left out of social activities. She told me not only is Matthew making friends and being included in group activities, but his classmates were very accepting of all the special needs students. I know they are only in kindergarten, but I truly hope this tolerance and acceptance continues through his whole school experience. Kids can be cruel, and when your child already has a social deficiency, you worry they won't fit in; that they will be bullied and picked on. But children can also be extremely forgiving and accepting, kind and loving. Our school tries to be inclusive of everyone, and the children seem to want to be that way too. I pray Matthew is just one of the gang; an average Joe, that has some good friends. I think my prayers are working.
We had Matthew’s birthday party this weekend and invited several of his classmates. Many were children with special needs, one was Candice. She told her mom on the ride over that Matthew was her best friend! Her BEST FRIEND. It brings tears to my eyes. Happy tears. Stay well.
Maryann DellaRocco is the mother behind the blog Matthew’s Puzzle, which chronicles her journey into the world of autism and biomedical interventions. She is married and has three boys, her oldest is on the spectrum. Follow her on Twitter: @mehmig.
Photo Credit: Mehmig's Album, Photobucket, March 30, 2010.