A non sequitur? Bear with me.
It’s not a secret that making friends is a challenge for most people with disabilities. This is especially true for those with communication issues. Whether it is discrimination, stigma, a lack of understanding or just a simple awkwardness, many people don’t see the disabled as people with whom they can connect.
Integration in schools is supposed to break down these barriers. It may work for some – those who are able to communicate and those whose medical issues are less complex. I’ve never been convinced that it is the best solution for all disabled children.
Deane has always been in a “congregated” school. This is a setting either in it’s own building or within an existing school where children with disabilities are together in a program designed to accommodate their needs and challenges. It provides them with a true peer group – other students like themselves. The staff makes a point of encouraging and celebrating friendships within the group.
Maintaining, let alone fostering, those connections outside of school is hard. School friends don’t necessarily live near each other. Transportation by wheelchairs is complicated and often it’s necessary to have a careperson (read parent) involved.
So when we have social events, we try to invite Deane’s friends – as we would our daughter’s friends. It doesn’t always work out for the reasons above. This past Christmas, however, the stars aligned and four of Deane’s good friends and their parents were at our house for a Christmas party. The party is a cookie decorating party. (That would be the cookie part)
Standing around our living room, the conversation turned to activities for our children and, in particular, camp. Deane and one of his buddies have been to camp together for four years (This is the fifth). Two of the others had never been to camp. The chat continued and a plan was hatched. We would try to send all of our kids to camp at the same time. They would be there with their friends – just like other kids.
Before Deane went to camp, what he was most excited about was seeing his friends. Now as we get ready to pick him up, we can’t wait to hear about all the fun he had with the Cookie Crew.