Our daughter is an only child. We’ve always wanted her to have friends, or at least a friend. Someone like her. A pal to hang out with, go on outings, enjoy similar things. A chum who isn’t paid to be with her or support her. At the moment she doesn’t have this.
When she was young we had hoped she would thrive as her sociability developed and that she would make connections, even lasting connections. Were we naive then? Did we really not anticipate how challenging school life would be for her and that she and her peers would need time and then more time to get to know one another and feel secure in each other’s company?
We moved home when our daughter was eleven and she joined a small class at a local special school and stayed with more or less the same group of students until she went on to college. The group bonded gradually as their shared experiences in class drew them together. Our daughter was the least able student and her classmates looked out for her. They acknowledged her sense of humour and would make her laugh. This created a bond of sorts.
At college she was placed in a class with one of her old schoolmates. She and this young man would sit together and check each other out surreptitiously. It was evident that in this very structured context they appreciated each other’s company. So when they left college we arranged a couple of meetings between them, both of course supported by their carers. We really hoped they would bond again when they met, that they would become pals of a sort.
On the first occasion they went bowling. To our disappointment they barely seemed to take each other in. The outing became more like a date between the carers as the two “friends” seemed intent on ignoring each other. Towards the end they were both resolutely facing in opposite directions.
Undeterred, when our daughter was briefly in residential care, we suggested her key worker invite the young man for tea, hoping the less distracting environment would help them enjoy each other’s company more. By all accounts it didn’t happen. The young man and our daughter simply didn’t engage. This made us realise that what was needed was a joint regular activity rather than the odd meeting here and there. Unfortunately for us, neither our daughter’s care home nor his pursued this. For our daughter, though, the lack of connection seemed to be of no consequence.
It wouldn’t be true to say that she can’t form very strong and durable attachments, however. She is still very fond of one of her very first carers who supported her when she was tiny and who now lives in another city. It’s the elusive relationship with her “peers” that seems to require a significant amount of engineering, nurturing and perseverance from us.
Friendship on equal terms can give such pleasure. The fact that our daughter doesn’t experience this on her own terms we feel is a loss. And our quest for “friendship with peers” for her is even less straightforward now she is no longer living in a residential setting and is at home. But if truth be told she is perfectly happy in the current set up with her lovely PAs doing everything they can to give her a good life.
She has just started attending a musical activity in a day centre once a week with a new bunch of people. She’s enjoying this. Yesterday her PA reported that two of the participants had expressed a wish to get to know her. Lunch in the cafe is being arranged.