There is a little boy in my son’s class named Michael. I don’t know anything about Michael other than what I observed of him at a birthday party last year and on the rare occasions that I have actually made it to school for parent-invited activities. He has a significant speech impairment, and he walks with an unusual gait. He doesn’t really seem autistic to me, though, so I have no idea what his diagnosis is. Every time I have ever seen him he has been smiling and happy and very sociable. I have never had the opportunity to speak with his mother.
A while back I had to have a conversation with my son about Michael. Ryan wanted to know what was wrong with Michael’s brain and why he couldn’t speak very well. He wasn’t making any sort of derogatory judgment, he just wanted to understand what was going on. I didn’t have any answers for him, but I stressed that Michael is a nice boy and it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t speak well, he can still be a good friend. Ryan seemed to agree and said Michael’s lack of intelligible speech isn’t really that big of a deal because he “speaks Michael.”
The other morning we were sitting in line at drop off waiting for a school bus to unload when I spotted Michael walking up the sidewalk toward school. Ryan got excited to see him, lowered the window, and shouted “Hi, Michael!” Michael approached the car and said something to Ryan in his garbled speech. It was more like sounds than words, and I had absolutely no idea what he said, but Ryan apparently understood because he replied “Yeah, I brought mine too!” I dunno. I guess he really does speak Michael.
I waved and said “Hi, Michael!” He smiled and waved back to me. Usually my son walks into school alone while I watch from the car, but on that morning I handed Ryan his backpack and told him to get out of the car and walk into school with his friend. So he did.
As I sat waiting for the bus to move, I watched my significantly challenged son and his significantly challenged friend walk into school together, chatting away in a language I only half understand. I smiled with both gratitude and sadness, happy that they had found a friend in each other and hoping they can remain that way as they get older, when their disabilities become more obvious to their peers and they both have to endure the fallout from that. But in that moment I was happy, and proud of my son for seeing past another child’s disability and being his friend, when friendship in itself is a struggle for my son.
And as they walked away from me, I was left wondering if Michael is really tiny or if Ryan is really tall.
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