Note: So happy to share this post from Jennifer Rose, author of It's Not a Perfect World, But I'll take it.
By Jennifer Rose
Growing up autistic wasn’t always easy for me. Not only did my disability make it rather difficult for me to make friends, but there weren’t a lot of girls “like me” at my old school. So my mother, god bless her, often took me to see other special needs families, with varying degrees of success. However, one friendship that stands out from all the rest is my friendship with Olivia.
Now, Olivia is significantly more disabled than I am, or even my younger sister- the contrast between the two of us is incredibly significant. It’s much easier for me to go out and make friends than it is for McKenna to. And yet, whenever we meet up, it’s like a beautiful bond has connected between us.
We’ve known each other literally since grade school. She was one of the first families Mom had encountered during her autism journey, and she was known as something of a “cool mom.” She and Olivia would always have very stylish clothes when they went out, and Olivia became known around Morristown, New Jersey for her singing with her therapist Jammin Jenn. We became even closer when she moved to my elementary school for a while, as we got to see each other more often. Likewise, her mom and my mom had a fantastic bond created by similar circumstances.
Several years ago, my mother had plans to go out with her mom to go out for pizza. She asked me if I wanted to come, and I was ambivalent at first. Not that I didn’t like seeing them, but I honestly wasn’t sure I’d be interested. Eventually, I figured “Ah, what the hell, it would be nice to get out of the house”- I was bored at home and often spent my time watching movies or playing video games- so I agreed to her offer. And also, who passes up on a nice warm slice of pizza?
When we met up at the restaurant, her mom was there to happily greet us.
“Oh, hi!” my mom told her mom. “We haven’t seen each other in ages!”
Olivia didn’t talk much, but I knew that, deep down, she appreciated me and my company
“I know, right?” said her mom. “I’m so glad to see you! You know, Olivia went to a party at her school, and a group of boys approached her, and offered her to dance!”
“Oh wow, Olivia!” I said in a delightful tone of voice. “That’s amazing!”
Eventually, the chatter spilled out into the typical chatter of special needs mothers.
“It seems as though we “need” an Autism Awareness Month, or we wouldn’t know that autism exists!” said Mom.
“What do you think about that?” I asked her.
“I honestly don’t think it’s doing much for the cause,” said Mom.
“Yeah, the other “awareness” months tend to be more effectual, like Lyme Disease Awareness Month” I said.
“Soon, everyone’s going to be autistic,” said Mom. “I mean, Asperger’s no longer exists!”
“Sometimes when I’m on the train taking Olivia to school, I sometimes I might get a sneak at a gossip magazine, but I don’t read them. I don’t really care for Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie.”
“Doesn’t Angelina Jolie do a lot of charity work?” I said. “She went over to Africa to do some charity work to help some starving kids, like, all the time.”
“Of course, a lot of celebrities typically do it for the attention, or at least get a lot of attention for doing so,” I continued. “That’s what makes stars like Jenny McCarthy unique.”
“That’s right!” said McKenna’s Mom.
And so they got chatting into a bunch of things autism moms talk about, like how schooling was going for their kids. Munching on her pizza, even though she couldn’t express it well, I knew that McKenna truly appreciated my company with her, as she always does.
When it was all over, I left with my mom happily, glad to meet up with an old friend after being trapped at home.
With the pandemic making it difficult, if not impossible, to go out and see people, it can be hard for people to “connect” with each other. The one silver lining to all this is that it makes opportunities like the one I had with Mckenna, all the more exceptional. My own mother says that I have a beautiful gift for being able to connect with special needs children, and of course, my friendship with Olivia is one of the biggest indicators of this. I really can’t thank Olivia and her mother enough for giving me such a beautiful, amazing bond brought closer by disability. Namaste.