I had the opportunity to go with my daughter Ady and her fourth grade class on their field trip to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia last month. Ady was diagnosed with autism at age two. She mostly uses a speech device and some approximations and sign language to communicate.
In preparation for the trip I grabbed what was needed and items I thought would help her to enjoy the day. Anything out of routine doesn’t always go smoothly.
I really didn’t have any expectations for the day. I took the day off from work. I was really looking forward to spending time with Ady and making memories.
Upon arriving at her homeroom a classmate of Ady’s (who I never met before) greeted me. Allison was excited to meet me and told me all about the things she brought with for Ady.
She brought an extra blanket in case she got chilly and an eye mask for the bus. She said she packed all of Ady’s favorite snacks and a few fidgets in case she got bored. Allison included a sign language children’s book and taught me a few signs: friends, happy, sorry, love. How sweet is that? She even asked Ady if she wanted to sit by the window because she remembered how much Ady enjoys looking out windows.
During her time in elementary school I had met a bunch of her classmates and everyone has always been very kind to her through the years. When we’re out in the community everyone knows Ady and it’s clear she’s loved.
It’s difficult though for Ady sometimes to form friendships because of her different abilities. We don’t get phone calls for play dates and park meet-ups and she isn’t involved in regular sports teams with her peers. So it can be difficult to tell who her true friends are when you can’t rely on the typical meet-ups and sports teams. She will occasionally get invited to birthday parties, but that’s rare. We’ve learned over the years that she appreciates small parties over inviting her whole class, so that is what we do to celebrate her special day.
I’ve always wanted friends for Ady because she enjoys companionship. Even though her sister will always be here best friend and have her back -it’s important to have peer friendships.
She loves playing with her siblings and interacting with them, but she plays differently sometimes and other people need to get that part to understand her. She’s not going to take the lead but she does want to be included.
The day of her field trip I couldn’t get over how kind and thoughtful her friends were. Everywhere we went they stuck by her side and made sure she was included. They gave her time to rest at quiet window spaces when she needed it and then joined back up with us checking to make sure she was having a good time.
Not once did I feel like Ady wasn’t part of the group and these were friends I never even knew existed. It’s not like she’s able to come home at the end of the day and tell me stories of what happened and who was kind to her or even who she played with on the playground. Typical questions that we ask our kids on a normal basis. I just have to hope that she’s content and included as much as possible.
At the end of the day though I thought a lot about how these girls must have been taught inclusion. That their parents must’ve played a role in their outlook on Ady and forming a relationship. They showed so much patience and kindness towards her that day and needed nothing in return except for friendship.
A few weeks later I had sent her to the park by our house with her therapist and family babysitter. I got a call from the sitter telling me that there was a girl from her class there and that Ady was laughing and playing and just having the best time with her friend. I had this feeling that it was the same girl so I rushed over to the park and there she was, her buddy Allison.
I wanted so much to meet and thank her parents and I had the privilege of doing so that day at the park. I was able to meet her father and along with tears of happiness just thanked him for teaching his daughter kindness and acceptance of others. I wanted him to know how much it truly meant to me to me. Ady knows when there are good people around her. She doesn’t ask for much and the people that make those differences like her friend Allison are wise beyond their years. Kids like that are rare. I believe more importantly then being the best athlete or having the best grades are the abilities to show compassion and mindfulness to others even if they are different.