Friendships can be complicated. Especially when they involve two families, one with and one without a child with special needs.
After living in New Jersey for 5 years, my wife and I, along with our 2-year-old and newborn, moved onto a college campus in Pennsylvania, where I would complete my degree over the next 3 ½ years. During those 3 ½ years, our lives were filled with work, school and raising 3 children, one with special needs. Naturally, we lost touch with some friends back in NJ. When we moved back in the summer of 2004, we ran into some old friends. Circumstances were different though…we now had a son with special needs.
We had a lot in common with one particular couple we reconnected with: we both had 3 kids and the husband and I worked in the same field. They invited us over for dinner at their house. We went with high expectations for a great evening. We had talked to our friends ahead of time about our son Micah, and his special needs and they prepared their kids to meet Micah. Micah started walking at the age of 4 and still has difficulty with his balance; he also has a visual impairment and limited speech and therefore touches a lot to get other people’s attention. As the doctors put it, Micah has multiple disabilities, which basically means he has more than one diagnosis that describes him: cerebral palsy and autism among them. Micah is one of the most loving kids you’ll ever meet. But “loving” is not necessarily an adjective that other little boys look for in a friend. You probably guessed by now that things didn’t turn out as we expected that night. On the way home, Micah’s big sister, in tears, explained how mean the kids were to Micah, one boy even said, “he hated him.” I felt so bad for my son (and his sisters) and at the same time had a knot in my stomach because I didn’t know what more I could’ve done to prepare for the evening.
It’s been almost 5 years since that night and I’m glad to say that we are still friends with that family and we’ve had several family dinners at each others houses since then. There has been a lot of teaching moments along the way for both of our families and I’m glad neither one of us gave up on the friendship. As a father of a child with special needs, I’ve come to realize that friendships require investment, and with that investment comes risk. But the risk is worth the reward…the reward of opening the eyes and impacting the lives of individuals who have yet to experience friendship with a person with special needs.