Friends listen to what you say. Best friends listen to what you don't say. ~Author Unknown
April…the month of the year that many in the Autism community choose to refocus on what is our individual mission within this spectrum. Some parents/individuals focus on raising awareness. Some focus on acceptance. Some want to go off the radar for a while. Our family chooses to just continue what we do all year long! Give our son the best life we can and help him gain the skills we feel is important for him to life his life to the fullest.
One of the skills we choose to focus on the most right now is building peer relationships and helping Brycen learn how to play & interact with his peers. Brycen is blessed to attend a school that encourages integration between the children with special needs and their typical developing peers. Brycen & I are even more blessed that the last couple years there is an amazing little girl at his school that has given him a boost in this area.
Brycen & Shealin met a couple years ago at the beginning of 1st grade. They were assigned to the same general education class. Even though Brycen only spent part of his day in that classroom environment, it was obvious the relationship that was budding between the two of them. As the year continued, the teachers/associates included Shealin more into Brycen’s day by encouraging her to be a “peer mentor” to him. Brycen is nonverbal & uses a communication device throughout the day. He also can be aggressive at times when he doesn’t know how to communicate or gets overwhelmed & overstimulated. Shealin understood all of this at the tender age of 6 years old & accepted him for who he was. It worked out so well for both, that at the end of the year the team unanimously decided it was best to put them in the same 2nd grade class as well to help Brycen with the transition. I don’t think any of us could foresee how this young friendship would grow into something even some adults don’t have in their life!
As 2nd grade progressed, other students & teachers came to realize there was not a Brycen in the general education classes without a Shealin with him. Two peas in a pod, the ying to his yang, etc. When Brycen is upset, he tends to be aggressive to those he is most comfortable with. Shealin is no exception to that. Yet, she doesn’t get upset with him like many other peers & adults do. She states how she feels when he hits her and moves on, never judging him, accepting that this is sometimes too hard for him to control. Shealin knows how to work Brycen’s communication device almost as well as the teachers/associates with him. She understands that he doesn’t play the way the other 2nd graders will at recess, and is eager to run around with Brycen in the way he knows how to play. She can tell the signs of when he is getting frustrated and immediately reaches in to hold his hand, give him a squeeze to help him through, or just whisper to him that it will be ok.
Their relationship has progressed outside of school as well. Brycen & Shealin are the true definition of best friends. Shealin is the friend that EVERY child deserves, whether they have a disability or not. Shealin has a heart of gold, wisdom beyond her years, & never-ending patience. When Brycen & Shealin are together, there isn’t “Autism” in the equation. Shealin is an amazing young girl that many older children & adults should strive to be like. She is not only Brycen’s hero during some very rough years of his development, but she is MY hero as well!
If you are reading this blog post, I hope & pray that your child can have the relationship of a lifetime like Brycen & Shealin have! I encourage you to talk to your child’s school & discuss implementing a peer mentor program like we are working towards at Brycen’s school for all children with special needs. Not only is it a benefit to your child…but it’s a benefit to the peers who will be taught acceptance & understanding of those who may be a little different than them. Let’s move into a new mission and focus on our children!