When Wil entered 4th grade, the gap in his abilities relative to his typically-developing peers took a large leap. Wil’s classmates talked faster than he did and played at a higher intensity. Even so, Wil and his friends, whom he had been in school with since kindergarten, formed a strong bond over the years. Whenever I witnessed Wil and his friends on the playground together, no one was left out. He and his friends created or altered games so they could all join in together. There was no shortage of singing, dancing and laughing.
Wil played recreational soccer with his peers through 3rd grade, but it was clear that would be his last year. Though his coach and teammates fully included and encouraged him, the faster pace simply wasn’t for him. The next season Wil went to TOPSoccer, designed for people with disabilities. He played with TOPSoccer for the next 4 years.
Now in 9th grade, Wil is happily settled into the familiar schedule of school with his friends. The friends are just as close as ever, but the reality is they are all teenagers now. Outside of school, Wil’s friends are balancing rigorous homework with multiple extracurricular activities, as are his sisters. Play time together is caught in brief snippets of time.
Isolation is a reality for many people with disabilities as they grow older. The gap expands and the opportunities shrink. As parents, siblings and friends of our loved ones with disabilities, we constantly seek and create opportunities for common ground. It is in the creation of new pathways, that our bonds grow even stronger.
When Wil was younger, he had a small drum set. Though Wil is a joyous bundle of energy most of the time, at times he would get overwhelmed with friends and run off. During one such time, Wil’s friend Lila spied his drum set, and they played together on that for hours. From then on, if Wil became overwhelmed when friends were over, they’d all circle back to the drum set.
I just put up a trampoline for Wil last week. My intention was for the trampoline to be his teenage version of the drum set (but quieter). It’s both a fun activity for Wil to enjoy on his own, as well as with his friends and family.
Last night Elizabeth and Wil, now equal in height, chased each other around the trampoline. Laughing, jumping and bouncing, they circled the perimeter over and over.
Over the course of these near 15 years of Wil’s life, I’ve uncovered a few core truths:
- Connection is not guaranteed with full inclusion, but strong bonds are rarely formed without it.
- Preparation alleviates fear of the unknown, but the unknown will present itself without it.
- Creation is necessary to move forward, but circling back also leads us where we want to go.
- And no matter how many hours you’ve heard a drum roll, when common ground is at play, you’ll want to shout “drum roll, please!”