Wil’s closest friends are five girls from school; all typically-developing. In our tight-knit community, I hear over and again how special Wil’s friends are. And it’s true. They are. My gratitude is high because I know in another tight-knit community – the community of parents who have children with Down syndrome — Wil’s friendship circle is not commonplace. I wonder, is there a special ingredient these friends have that can be shared? What exactly is it that sets them apart?
One obvious answer is Wil sets himself apart. Not by intention, but by his nature. Wil is funny, silly and goofy at times; as most of us can be. Wil belts out a good tune, and hugs heartily; as most of us are moved to do. Wil grows tired, grumpy and impatient; as we all can. Wil, however, takes all of the above to a slightly, and other times very, different level than most of us.
Last year, I drove Wil through the McDonalds drive-thru to get a Sprite (his reward, aka bribe, for not ditching the school bus to hide in the stairwell. Thanks to a team effort with his teachers, we uncovered another motivator before his teeth rotted).
“We-we-we-welcome back to McDonalds. Wh-wha-wha-what can I get you?” We were asked via the speaker under the drive-through menu. Wil mimicked the words verbatim, then laughed. My child with special needs was making fun of another person with special needs! How could he? Then I thought on this. We all have varying levels of differences. And this was an unfamiliar difference to Wil. A typical reaction for a child, and even adults, is to make fun of what is ununderstood. So, in effect, Wil was responding in a typical way. I marveled at the irony. I also wasn’t going to stand for it.
I turned around in my seat, looked Wil in the eye and said, “Wil, that is how he talks. Just like you talk the way you do, Elizabeth talks the way she does, and Katherine talks the way she does. We all talk differently. There is nothing to make fun of. Sometimes all you need to do is be patient and listen.”
“Oh, ok,” he said. I pulled up to pick-up window, and Wil leaned forward from the back seat and waved, yelling, “Hi!” Then “Thank you!” Wil has good manners when he’s not being a pistol.
One of my favorite quotes from Wil’s friend, Ashely Bobo is, “That’s just Wil being Wil.” She says this with a shrug and a smile, as any friend would. When Wil grew tired in gym class, he laid flat on the floor as his friends jumped rope. When he was ready, he hopped back into the jump rope game and his friends cheered him on.
Another favorite quote is from Wil’s friend, Lila Harvey. Wil and Lila were playing on the slide at the playground. Wil decided to plant himself at the top. When it was clear to Lila he wasn’t budging she said, “Stop fooling around Wil and get down here!” Wil considered this for a beat, then down he went. Lila knows how to call his bluff, as any good friend would.
Wil and his friends do not have a level playing field, yet they built a friendship on common ground. They are not perfect, either (everyone needs a reminder to use their patience and listening skills now and then). What they have created together is a friendship circle. In the center a revered place to meet, surrounded by a wide breadth of latitude for their varied level of differences. A circle that is absolutely duplicatable; and yet it is not commonplace. That is exactly what makes this group of friends so very special.