I was recently talking with my son about one of his diagnoses.
Together, we were making a list of things that this particular diagnosis cannot take from him.
At one point, I said “Well what about friends? Your diagnosis isn’t able to take away friends and your chance to make friends, right?”
To my surprise, he said yes, it does take away friends.
Since our conversation, I have thought often about my son feeling that this piece of him—a diagnosis—has the power to take friends from him.
His feelings are valid.
His words and his perspectives are worthy of being heard and honored.
I am thankful he shared his thoughts with me and chose to collaborate with me and give permission for others to hear his experiences.
While our conversation about what this diagnosis means to him and for him was lengthy, it was the comment about friends that has continued to stand out to me.
When I place myself in the shoes of my son, I must admit that he is right.
According to much of what he experiences, he has every reason to believe that his diagnosis takes friendly relationships from him.
For years, he has watched people avoid him, misunderstand him, underestimate him, and not try to include him.
He has seen those who should have been on the front lines of knowing him and loving him—those who should have been his built-in friends—turn the other way.
He has also seen me relentlessly advocate and speak up, though it has not been enough to guard him from the ignorance and at times, straight-up cruelty he encounters.
Many times, ignorance is chosen. That is nothing short of cruel.
The thing is, all of this really has little to do with his diagnosis.
He may have very few friends, but it is not his diagnosis that has that kind of power.
While it may appear that his diagnosis is what steals from him the opportunities to have connections, play dates, and precious, close relationships, a diagnosis is nothing more than that—a diagnosis.
My son remains a complete and remarkable human being that any soul would be all the better for knowing.
So, if not his diagnosis, what are the actual thieves of these relationships my son aches for?
Unwillingness to change and grow.
Fear of the unknown.
Comfort over compassion.
My son’s diagnosis is a powerful thing and an aspect of him that is worthy of being noticed, learned about, and considered.
But it is not—nor will it ever be—mighty enough to steal way relationships.
It breaks my heart and makes me angry that he has been made to feel this way.
The truth is, those who know—and I mean truly, truly know—my son adore him.
They find him to be one of the friendliest, most delightful people in their world.
They are keenly aware of his presence, they allow him to beautifully take up his intended space without apologizing for it, and they feel a constant attraction to him intermingled with a consuming desire to include him.
They make changes on his behalf to make things more accessible.
They make time for, ask for, and honor his thoughts, words, and opinions.
Those who know him, love him.
Those who know him have also taken the time to earn this privilege by embracing a willingness to learn, a slaying of prejudices and judgements, and a desire to step out of their own comfort zone for something (someone) beyond than selves.
The rewards they both reap and gift in return are priceless.
I apologized to my son on behalf of every person who has ever made him feel that a diagnosis—rather than their own failures—keeps friendships away from him.
I am so thankful for the friends, the irreplaceable relationships my son does have, few as they may be.
We have found friends in the most expected places and family where DNA is not shared.
For this, we couldn’t be more thankful.
As an advocate and a mom, I will never stop fighting to open eyes and smash down barriers.
I will—without apology—embrace opportunities and place my son in the midst of circles where he will be himself unashamedly while extending an invitation for the opportunity of a lifetime—his friendship.
At times, we will together feel the hurt of rejection and ignorance.
And then we will stand back up, move forward, and pour our energy into finding and delighting over the rare gems along the way.