When I was in school there was a girl, we'll call her Betsy, who was a little, shall we say, off. She was nice enough, but strange. She was immature, and sometimes brought a little teddy bear to sit on her desk. If Betsy tried to make conversation, I was polite, but not overly inviting. I would never have picked on her, or made fun of her, but I certainly didn't go out of my way to include her. I felt if I gave her an inch, she might take a mile and glob on and want to be my best friend and I just didn't know what was up with her and I really didn't have the energy.
People, this was nursing school. I was 29.
Looking back I can see clearly, Betsy is on the spectrum. She had no doubt been through years of grueling therapies and interventions to get her to the point of successfully completing nursing school. She did have a couple of friends, foreign students who were also getting special tutorial help.
Riley is heartbroken over play dates. Day after day, little girls pair off and go over to each other's houses for an hour or two after school. No one ever invites her. They are polite. They don't pick on her or make fun of her, but she's not included.
How can I expect nine year olds to do what I couldn't bring myself to do at almost 30 years of age?
I wish someone had taken me aside, and told me all about Betsy. What a triumph it was for her to get into that very challenging nursing program. How hard she'd worked all her life. What an amazing person she was. If someone had explained her to me, it would have been different. By my own ignorance, I missed a gift.
I am considering drafting a letter to several parents of little girls in our neighborhood, hoping to score Riley some play dates. Most of them already know she has Asperger's, but I don't think they realize exactly what that means for her. Maybe they are afraid. They could never know how hard she's worked or how far she's come. It probably doesn't even occur to them that she spends every afternoon alone while their daughters giggle and snack and play.
My fear is they'll ignore my request, or their kids won't want to play with Riley and will be forced to, begrudgingly.
I can't make them like her, but if they get to know her, they might. Often Riley's body language doesn't seem approachable, but once she knows a person well, she can be quite conversant and she is so very sweet.
I just keep thinking about Besty. Wishing I had handled it differently. Wishing I had known more. Wishing I had been a better person. I am ashamed I didn't allow myself the gift her friendship would have been.
It would also be a shame for the little girls in our neighborhood to miss out on the opportunity to know Riley.
The more we know, the better we do.
Wish us luck.