Anytime I meet new potential playmates for my kids, the same questions come to mind instantly. I don’t always ask right away, but I definitely think about them. In the past, I didn’t ask the questions upfront. I gave them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it will go great? No preamble needed.
However, a few play dates in, when everyone starts to relax, I regret NOT asking the questions straight out the gate….How do you treat someone with special needs? Are you ok with outbursts? Can you handle confrontation in a non-bias way? Are you compassionate when we cry even if you don’t “agree” with why we are upset? Can you hold space while we recover? Can you have the same compassion for my kids as you do for yours if things aren’t super perfect every playdate?
I often wonder what response I’d get initially…Oh?? you are empathetic and kind. You support adversity and are gender neutral? You are cool with explaining steps more than once and restating intentions when we misinterpret?
Ok then. Let’s do it. Let’s set a play date. I’m so grateful for your willingness to include my unique family into your circle.
That’s the dream conversation every special needs parent hopes to hear. Unfortunately, even with this disclaimer in place, things haven’t always played out that smoothly.
So, I’ve decided to be a bit more thorough in my introduction to new friends. If we get together, there’s a few things I need you to understand about my kids. From now on, we come with instructions. These instructions are not more important than your family’s house rules, but there will need to be a merge of our systems if you want our play date to be a hit.
#1: We don’t conform well.
If your children have a desire to be in charge and insist on organized play they get to set up all the rules for, we will likely offend you. We don’t mind rules, but we have a short attention span, so unless you write them on a board and post them before we arrive so we have reference often, we will likely not comply with your wishes at the exact moment requested. It’s not because we think your rules are wrong, it’s just that your disappointment when we miss a rule can be a lot and we tend to short out when over-stimulated by lots of noise, aggression, sudden movement, and sometimes even sunlight. We react to this with tears, tantrums, etc. This can be alarming to some. It comes off as defiant, but what’s actually happening is we are overloading. We may need to take a walk, sit quietly alone, or even eat. But definitely can’t just push through and comply.
# 2: Rules need to be in writing.
We are visual people. If you insist on having rules, please state them in writing at the top of our play date. Review them with the group so we all feel informed as a group, not singling anyone out. You see, we forget things. Often. And we need visuals to be our guide so we don’t annoy you when we need constant reminders.
# 3: We get HANGRY.
We don’t mean to, but when we play…we are firing on all cylinders full throttle and usually run out of energy fast. And we can’t always recognize our need to refuel. It sometimes comes out as anger or frustration. I keep healthy snacks on me at all times. If our mood changes quickly, please be patient. We recognize it is not you. We know. We are embarrassed. We’d appreciate it if you don’t make it super obvious to everyone that we let you down. We are on it but will need just a few minutes in a calm/quiet space to ground ourselves and recharge then start again. Please.
#4: Read up on my condition.
If you invite a special needs kid to play, do your research. Try to understand who we are and care. We don’t make excuses for our behavior. We work so hard to fit in with typical people everyday. But rarely does anyone with typical kids try to truly “get us” if they don’t have to. Compassion is so important if we are to be friends and your kids will be that much more advanced if you sit them down too and teach compassion, not just claim it. It will add to their leadership skills. It will ease your anxiety when we mess up. Everyone will benefit. And if you want, ask me about my kids. I’m happy to explain and compromise in advance of our time together.
#5: Be patient.
If you don’t have patience, I’m sorry not sorry but we can’t hangout. There’s a reason they say patience is a virtue. We may upset you for not complying right away, forgetting rules, crying easily when hungry instead of just asking for food, but we are also incredibly loving and kind. We do therapy weekly to work on our social skills. We have been prepping for the play date like it’s the Olympics itself. We don’t want to let you down. We want to have friends. We truly do. So please know we may mess up, but we will always try to make it right. It just takes us a little longer sometimes to bounce back. Your patience is the key. If you have it, we can show you just how truly special our relationship can be. We value our friends so dearly. We know how hard it is to meet people you connect with and when we find our tribe members, we love them for life.
#6: We may not show it, but we really need friends.
So many people would rather write off a “friend” when things go south. We are praying that it’s not this time. We want and need friends in our life. We want to learn from our peers. We want to comply. We also hope to find friends who are willing to join in our interests too. Build legos, listen to the same joke over and over…yes. Sure. But also, we need friends who can calmly/slowly teach us new things too. We can’t promise it will always go smoothly, but we will always value your time and kindness even if we don’t show it right away.
I don’t know, I’m just venting this month. So many changes have happened in the last year to everyone. As we start to venture out of quarantine life, everyone is going to have social growing pains. We’ve been isolated for so long. There’s bound to be some dilemmas that occur when we finally meet up. I hope these instructions give future playmates the insight needed so we can all have fun together.
I’ve learned by not giving this disclaimer upfront, I’ve sent my kids into the fire with no water. We’ve lost a few good friends by missing this step. In the future, I won’t assume this info is understood. I hope it helps you guys too as you start to venture out once again post this covid pandemic.
JB Boutelle has worked in “The Biz” for almost a decade, yet she’s somehow managed to keep her feet firmly on the ground. Her altruistic spirit aims to evoke your Inner Phoenix and encourage readers to take the difficult leaps in life, so you can continue to grow.