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We all long to be liked, to have friends, to be included and to belong.
Every parent wants their child to have friends, good friends that like them and care for them, friends that they can trust and build healthy relationships with. But what about when our child is disabled, different or diverse?
A mother from Neptune Beach Florida, USA, spoke about the overwhelming response she has received after Tweeting about her lonely 21-year-old Autistic son. Kerry Bloch’s son David has been non-verbal for most of his life but recently amazed his parents by asking his first question: “Would someone like me?”
David’s story got me thinking about my own 17-year-old son, James, who is also Autistic and has Learning Disability and Epilepsy along with anxiety difficulties.
James has never had the kind of friendships that most children and young people have; he’s never had friends round to the house or gone to someone else’s house, he stopped being invited to children’s parties when he was about six or seven.
When James was out of school for over a year, was actually out of everything for over a year when he was unable to leave the house due to severe anxiety, there were no friends to come and visit him; nobody called.
The only human interaction he had was with family and the few professionals that came to check on him and work with him. No friends.
But is that the full story? Are there other young people that like my son James? I remember that once James had been able to start going out again, one of the first places we were able to visit was the farm shop that he loves to go to.
They sell lots of things that James enjoys, but it is also a safe place for James. Many of the staff are very kind to him, know him by name, ask him how he is doing, and don’t mind if he eats what he has chosen before we’ve been able to pay for it! But are they his friends?
When James has been at church, people interact with him, ask how he is doing, care for him, but these lovely people are all adults; none of them are his age, none of them would be what might be understood to be his friends.
But then when we were about to start re-engaging James back into short visits to school, the weekend before his first scheduled visit, I happened to bump into one of the students in his class, Brendan, and his mum at the supermarket.
It took a moment to recognise where I knew them from as it had been so long since James had been at school, but when I mentioned that we were going to try to bring James in for a school visit the following week Brendan literally jumped for joy and kept repeating James’ name… he was delighted that he was going to be seeing James again!
Now that James is back at school regularly, three short days a week, he is able to interact with other students. Another of the students at school, Arya, regularly asks about James and seems genuinely pleased to see him.
Maybe in Brendan and Arya, as well as other students, James does have some friends of his own age after all…
David’s mum Kerry from Florida Tweeted her son’s question “Would someone like me?” and it went viral, with responses from thousands of people including parents of other Autistic children and young people, but also sports people, emergency services teams and loads of other places… all affirming that they liked David a whole lot.
Their story going viral has brought some attention to the often lonely world that Autistic children and young people can live in, that their families can live in.
We all too often hear the stories of Autistic children being left out of class-wide party invitations, or the stories of them sending invitations to their own party but no-one coming.
Perhaps this story will help to raise some better awareness, acceptance and understanding and help us all to appreciate better that we all long to be liked, to have friends, to be included and to belong.
What can you do today to make a difference for someone you know?
Mark Arnold, Director of Additional Needs Ministry at Urban Saints. Arnold blogs at The Additional Needs Blogfather. This article was re-published with permission.