Thursday, October 10, 2013

Foot races and acceptance

My heart sank.

Danny insisted that I let him play outside, but that was the last thing I felt like doing.  We were visiting my mom, and her next door neighbors were having a party.  There was a gaggle of kids in the front yard playing with sidewalk chalk and laughing, and I worried that they would exclude Danny.  
Or worse, that they would reject him.

I just didn't want to face this group of kids.  I didn't want to watch them as they sized up Danny.  I couldn't stomach watching them laugh at him or roll their eyes at him.  More than anything, I wanted to convince Danny and Charlotte to go back in the house.  I just wasn't up for the possible hurt feelings.

Danny was chomping at the bit  to get outside and play, though, and he couldn't figure out why I was stopping him.  Of course, I couldn't tell him that my fear was he'd be rejected by these kids.  Danny loves other kids, but often has difficulty interacting with them.  He doesn't understand many of the playground's inherent social rules, and because of that, kids sometimes think he's weird.  He's been called all kinds of names, even the dreaded R-word.

Danny has friends, but they are mostly kids who have known him for a while--friends of the family.  His other friends are from LEGO Club, which is made up of kids who have a lot of the same social struggles as Danny.  Once others get to know him, they often discover how wonderfully funny and exuberant Danny is, but making new friends is where it's tough.  It takes people a while to understand him--his language isn't always decipherable, mostly because he almost always launches into a conversation with no background information for people.  He'll regale kids with the most arcane tidbits about LEGO Hero Factory, while his audience just stares, confused.

So, I braced myself, preparing for the worst.

Danny rode his bike up to the group of kids and announced his name and standing as a LEGO champ without ever making eye contact with anyone.  Then, he rode off.

The kids laughed, and I flinched.  Here we go, I thought.

As a tiny little girl approached me, I wondered how I could explain Danny to these kids in a way that would educate them and not sound like I was apologizing for my son.

But, Samara didn't require an explanation.  She stopped in front of me, looked me in the eyes, smiled, and said, "Excuse me, can you tell your son that if he wants to play with us, he can?"

The rest of the evening, Danny joined these energetic, but polite kids, running races up and down the block. They laughed and goofed around.  Danny made some of his trademark off-the-wall comments and the kids giggled.

But they were not laughing at him.  They were not avoiding him.  They accepted my son into their little group of cousins and siblings with no question at all.  This group was made up of at least three different ethnicities and many different ages, and with the addition of  Danny, it was even  more diverse than before.

No one batted an eye at Danny's idiosyncrasies.  No one worried that Danny was different.  They just played together, laughing, running, and making silly jokes.

These sweet kids taught me an important lesson: not all kids are cruel. Obviously, there will be those who do not accept Danny, but tonight I learned that there are some incredible people out there, people who are welcoming, inviting and accepting of all different kinds of people.

And those are the types of friends that Danny deserves.

Patty is mom to three wonderful kids, all of whom have Sensory Processing Disorder.  Her oldest son is also on the autism spectrum.  She is a freelance reporter for her local newspaper and started a LEGO Social Club for kids on the spectrum last year.  She blogs at

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