The Balance & Beauty of Friendship: The Importance of “Typical” Friends for a Child with Special Needs

One of the most special things in our journey of advocacy, inclusion, awareness and everyday life with Zach is seeing the abundance of “real”, natural, easy friendships he has been gaining with kids who do not have special needs. At first, it was merely family friends or neighbors or friends of his little sister. But now, he’s a lucky boy with several friendships that he can call his own with typical friends. They’re his and they’re so important to him (and us). Here’s a few reasons why:

Wendy Zook Photography, Down Syndrome awareness, Down syndrome, family with Down Syndrome, DS advocacy, inclusion, special needs family, special needs friendships

Something to call his own
Zach and Addie share almost everything -- toys and snacks and homework help and a lot of hugs. As much as I love that our circle of friends and Addie’s group of buddies all love and welcome Zach, it’s so important that he has friends of his own. Friends his age and in his class and friends who are loving him by choice, not because they have to.

Let’s open their eyes
Z-Man isn’t the only one to get something out of a friendship like this. He allows a new friend to see differences in people, understand and appreciate those differences and respect the HECK out of a friend who may be different from them. Perhaps that child will be kind to people -- especially people who are not the same as him or her -- all their life.

Wendy Zook Photography, Down Syndrome awareness, Down syndrome, family with Down Syndrome, DS advocacy, inclusion, special needs family, special needs friendships

Monkey see, monkey do
By having similar-age, typical friends, Zach will undoubtedly be pushed to be stronger and faster; to speak clearer and communicate more often; to keep up with them in all of the ways. These friendships give Zach a peer role model and create a safe space to keep working on all of his skills.

What about the parents?
Let’s not forget the moms and dads of these friends -- by having Zach as a friend, these kiddos are going home and perhaps opening up the eyes and hearts of their parents. I know for a fact that conversations -- beautiful conversations about acceptance and love and differences -- have been started at homes across our town after a playdate with Z-man.

Wendy Zook Photography, Down Syndrome awareness, Down syndrome, family with Down Syndrome, DS advocacy, inclusion, special needs family, special needs friendships
Wendy Zook Photography, Down Syndrome awareness, Down syndrome, family with Down Syndrome, DS advocacy, inclusion, special needs family, special needs friendships

But I also love that by simply having a new friend on your average Tuesday afternoon doing regular kid things speaks volumes louder than any choreographed discussion about special needs.

These are just two kids who have a great time together, probably without counting any chromosomes at all.