OPINION: Special-needs kids deserve friendship

As a typical girl growing up in Wisconsin, I came into contact – but never made friends with – the numerous special-needs kids at my school.
There was the girl with Down Syndrome, the boy in the motorized wheelchair, the tall kid with the shuffling-limp walk and another kid who looked different somehow.
I wish I could say otherwise, but I don’t recall their names. They shared the same school but not the same realm as me or my peers.
I rarely thought about them back then, and I haven’t honestly thought about them much since – until I had my own special-needs child. Lucas, age 3, has autism and attends a wonderful special-ed program at the Early Childhood Education Center.
Now, of course, I notice special-needs children everywhere. And I notice their parents. Most of them, like me, went to regular classes with regular kids and never expected their child to be any different.
I know too well today that behind every special-needs child is a worried parent. We want the same thing for our kids as anyone else: To make friends, to learn, to grow, to love and to one day become independent. Unlike parents of typical kids, though, we’re less sure it’ll all work out.
I never thought about the parents of those special-ed kids back then. I never considered the worry, the grief, the hardship and precarious nature of hope.
Had I known, I might have tried to befriend some of those children. I certainly would have gone to the birthday party for the girl with Down Syndrome. We talked sometimes at the bus stop, and she had invited me personally. I said I already had plans and couldn’t go, but in reality I just felt uncomfortable.
It was shallow and inconsiderate; I thought mostly of myself back then. Children can be cruel that way. They were in the 1980s as they surely are today. So it’s with trepidation that I watch my own son navigate the playground and hallways at school.
Will his peers shun his birthday parties? Will they tease him for his autistic tendencies? Will they whisper about him behind his back?
I’m sure it will happen. Even the typical kids get shunned, teased and taunted at times. I just dread the day I witness it for myself.
In the meantime, I’m doing everything possible to give my child and those like him the best tools for success. I’m helping start a new nonprofit educational center for children with autism and developmental disabilities – Autism Center of Tupelo.
And we’re holding our first fundraiser Dec. 12 at the BancorpSouth Conference Center. It’s a party with a live band, cocktails, hors d’eouvres and a silent auction. Tickets are $50 and can be purchased at the Daily Journal.
Our dream is to educate children, empower their parents and one day train typical kids how to best befriend their special peers. Maybe we can change the world, one child at a time.
Kumbaya.

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal