39: Friendships

39: Friendships

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kids on the Spectrum


Silence makes the real conversations between friends. Not the saying but the never needing to say is what counts.

~Margaret Lee Runbeck

One of the things you might find discussed ad nauseum in all the websites, books, etc. is how the impact of a special needs child can change your relationships. Usually, they are referring to marriages or romantic relationships. But I’m not here to talk about marriage. Sure, my husband and I have felt the impact of the label, and the recognition of what the future may or may not hold. But — oddly enough — facing the truth of the situation, and the acknowledgement that we really have to live in the “now” actually helped us. There was no more push to be “perfect” as we tried to get our son to “catch up.” In accepting him as he is, we continued our promise to accept one another as we are.

Friends, however, can be a different story. Friends aren’t bound by vows or joint checking accounts, even though they’ve seen you wild and crazy as much as your spouse has, maybe even more. I found that even before the diagnosis, when the differences became more obvious, friends began to fall into different categories.

First and foremost are the golden friends, the ones who’ve been there through thick and thin. They were the first ones to call when word got out that we had a diagnosis. They are the ones I can call in the middle of a serious problem to take my boy for the night. They are the ones who get up and do a happy dance every time my son does something awesome. In short, they are family — maybe not blood, but family nonetheless. These are the friends to be cherished — and rewarded, with pie and expensive bottles of wine.

On the other side, there are the friends with whom you completely lose touch — the ones who ran when they saw or heard that my son was “different” from their kids. I’m happy to say, they weren’t many, and frankly — their absence is for the better. I mean, if they are freaked out by my kid, does my kid need to be around them?

You can recognize these friends by the repeated blow-offs. I’m not talking the “My kid is sick, can we meet next week?” typical blow-offs that happen to all of us. I’m talking the “My kid is sick, but not sick enough to do something fun with other parents that is then shared and bragged about on Facebook.” And then maybe you see that person at the park from time to time, and you get the fake hug and the “Yeah, we should totally hang out.” They don’t really ask about your kid, or they do so with the cringe or stage whisper and pity look. And they are perfectly willing to tell you everything about their kids and every single milestone they have crushed.

Then there are the new mommy friends — the ones that “get it” because your life is their life, give or take a margarita. These are the mommies of kids who are in school with yours, dealing with the same tantrums, the same quirks, the same vocabulary, the same concerns. It’s strange, but they are sort of “instant friendships” — maybe because we can relax around them — there’s no explaining here. Sharing of new ideas maybe, but no apologies over your kid grabbing toys, or not wanting to play, or screaming in protest when hugged. We share those looks that say — yeah, it’s that kind of day. And we share the joy of seeing our kids make eye contact and running together — because we know that’s a huge step for them in the realm of play.

Then there are the friends that, well, maybe don’t mean to blow you off, but do. Because they are confused. A golden friend reminded me of this the other day: sometimes, they just don’t know what to say — to me. They don’t know that they can just sit down, have a cup of coffee and talk about the junk we talked about before the diagnosis. Because, it turns out, my son and I are still the same people. Some of my vocabulary has changed, and my outlook has shifted slightly, but I’m still heavy handed with the liquor in my cocktails, and I still bake tasty whole-wheat banana/zucchini bread. And unless you come over and are mean to my kid, there really isn’t anything you could say that would offend me. If you have questions, I can supply answers. And our kids might play together, although I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Now, I can’t talk about friendships without evaluating my own actions as well. Sometimes when you hear the diagnosis, when you get immersed in this new world, you hide. Heck, I was down for a good month — lucky to get my toilets scrubbed, let alone step out in public for anything other than a grocery run. And I was prepped — we had been in therapy for a few months, and I was ready to hear what was going to be said — and it still knocked me on my butt.

It is the tendency of new moms of special needs kids to hide — not that we’re hiding our kids, but we are hiding ourselves. I didn’t want to burden my friends with tears that showed up unexpectedly while I got my emotions under some semblance of control. And I didn’t want to hear about their kids. I didn’t want to have to hide my jealousy, my frustration, my anger.

But I’m not hiding anymore, even though I’ll still cry at the drop of a hat. Usually it’s over the sort of things I would normally cry about — soup commercials or greeting cards — like any other perimenopausal woman, right?

There is an old belief that I’ve always cherished: when you make friends with someone — a child is born. Each friendship is a child to be nurtured and cherished. This would explain why I’m not the social butterfly: I take the “raising” of these “children” very seriously. The relationships that truly matter to me are precious, and must be cared for — for each is its own individual gift.

So, if you’ve been hesitant to call, feel free to pick up the phone. And if you called me yesterday, you can call me again today. I just put some banana bread in the oven, and I would love a good chat. . . .

~Dawn Hentrich

More stories from our partners