By Megan Loden
My sweet boy has always been a little different. He tests off the charts academically, which often gives people the impression that he’s just fine. Or he will be, eventually. He’s always been a little bit socially awkward, making it difficult to make friends and real connections with his peers. People who don’t know him (or even some who know him a little too well) say he’s just shy. They say he’s just marching to his own beat. Those things are true, at least partly. But in reality, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
My little guy was at his charter school for 4 years and in that time made 3 friends. It took him 2 whole years to make those friends, but he finally found his tribe and was as happy as he could be. The first time I saw them all walk out of school together at pick up I literally cried a tear of happiness for him.
This year he is back in public middle school due to school culture, academics, and a complete disregard for his emotional and mental well-being at the charter. I thought I was more nervous than he was about the big change but maybe not. Two weeks in and not only has he not made 1 single friend, but he also tells me he’s barely spoken to anyone. He says he “walks around alone” during free time and doesn’t really “need a friend to be okay.” Hearing those words from my boy literally made my stomach turn. I don’t think he believes it for a minute. He had friends and was a totally different kid last year.
The very thought of my little guy sitting at a lunch table full of his classmates carrying on their own conversations while he watches in silence is breaking my heart. He doesn’t say anyone is being mean or even ignoring him. They’re just being kids with their own friends and interests. Nobody notices him staring at the floor and making his way from one class to the next as quickly as possible. Nobody sees that he sits on the wall alone while waiting to be let in before the day starts. They don’t realize he is watching from behind his books as the other boys talk on the basketball courts.
People have all kinds of advice for me. They tell me to force him to talk to strangers. I have. A lot. The problem with that is that when he does this, he gets nervous. And when he gets nervous, his numerous tics become more apparent and this leads to him being singled out and often picked on. People tell me to force him into extra-curricular. He’s played baseball for 7 years. 7 YEARS! In 7 years he has probably uttered fewer than 20 words to any kids on his teams. He barely speaks to the coaches and is often regarded as the only child on the team who is always listening for directions. I’m told to give him space. How much space does he need? He spends every moment he’s allowed (for the record, I don’t allow it a lot of the time) in his room alone. He plays video games alone. Not even with other kids online. At this point, I’d be grateful for an online friend. At least that would be something.
The kinds of challenges my son faces will never go away completely. I can’t fix this for him. If I stop and think about that fact for more than a minute, I feel like I can’t catch my breath. The pain I feel can best be described as water torture. It’s slow and excruciating and there’s no end in sight. It seems that no matter what we do, my youngest will be the one to cause my sleepless nights. He will be the one to bring me to silent tears behind my sunglasses, where he won’t see as I reach and pat his leg, telling him today will be a great day in the drop-off line.
What no one sees is why I wouldn’t trade him for all the neurotypical children in the world. No one sees how at only 11 years old he still races to open the door for me when we come home after his long, lonely day. No one knows how he holds my hand for “just a minute” while we watch TV on the couch. He is by far the sweetest boy I have ever met. He’s kind and responsible. He’s exactly the boy I always wanted. I just wish the world could see that, too.
About the Author
Megan is a stay at home mom taking motherhood one day (read: glass of wine) at a time. When she isn’t busy embarrassing her teenaged twins with her mere presence, she can be found obsessing over her 11-year-old son or talking to her dogs and cats while her husband answers on their behalf, voices and all. She can be found on her Instagram, on Facebook, and on Twitter. Her writing can be found on Twiniversity here and on BLUNTmoms and on Scary Mommy.