The guidance councilor at my boy's school pulled me aside and asked if my younger son, Zane, could participate in "Lunch Bunch" with one of his classmates. Lunch Bunch is for kids who have social goals on their IEP, Individualized Education Plan. The special-needs child and a few classmates can have lunch in one of the teacher's offices, typically the special education teacher's office or the guidance councilor's office to work on whatever the social goals might be for that child. It’s a relaxed environment for the special-needs child to learn how to have a conversation, take turns etc. My oldest son, Logan, who is on the Autism Spectrum, has been enjoying Lunch Bunch for two years now and I think it's been a wonderful tool to aide in the development of cultivating friendships for him. Every kid in his class wants to be chosen to have the special lunch and play with special toys while everyone else sits in the cafeteria.
I was honored that Zane was chosen and not the least bit surprised. He naturally gravitates towards other children on the Spectrum because, I think, they remind him of his brother. But I wanted Zane to choose whether or not he wanted to participate in Lunch Bunch. He lives and breathes life under the Autism umbrella and I didn’t want to force this on him.
While on a dog walk I decided to bring it up and ask him what he thought about participating in Lunch Bunch with this child from his class, Sam*. He seemed curious but wanted to know if he could invite some friends as well. I explained to him how Logan is the key kid for Lunch Bunch in his class and he gets to be the one who invites other kids and Sam is the key kid in his class. I went on to further explain that the good news is that Sam picked him to participate and that it's a special opportunity.
Zane was walking next to me and became silent; I could tell he was analyzing it in his mind. Trying to the change the subject I asked him who sat at his group of desks. He went through the names of all the kids telling little stories about each one. Sam was one of them. So I asked Zane, "How is Sam doing in school this year?"
"Not good. Yesterday he left early because he wouldn't get off the floor."
"What does the teacher do when Sam lays on the floor?"
"She taps him on the shoulder and then Sam grunted at her like this..." (He grunted softly to demonstrate)
"Oh, that's too bad. Did you know that Sam has a different kind of brain?"
"Like Logan?", he asked.
"Yeah, like Logan."
"That’s what I thought. But no one is there to help Sam like Ms. Drew does for Logan."
(Ms. Drew is Logan’s dedicated aide)
We walked for a bit longer in silence and then Zane said, "Do you think Sam would want to be my friend?"
"I think he would. He seems like a pretty cool kid. And I bet you guys have a lot in common."
"He just ignores me though."
"I think he's just processing everything that is going on, I’m sure he doesn't mean to ignore you."
"Just like Logan does sometimes."
"Yup, like Logan does."
I'm instantly reminded of what a compassionate child Zane is and how living under the Autism umbrella can be a pretty good thing after all.
(* name of the child has been changed)