A phrase I've heard often since Kayla was born is, "The gap widens as they get older." This usually refers to the person with the Down syndrome and the gap with their typically-developing same-age peers.
I have seen that happening over the past couple of years. It is hard for Kayla to keep up with what kids her age are doing and talking about.
Friendships are harder to maintain because of a variety of reasons. She has been accepted in school and in her classrooms. Each year I'm told there are a small group of kids who have taken Kayla under their wings, so to speak. When I happen to be at a school event with Kayla, or walking through the hallways with her like on Meet The Teacher Night, there are always kids that say hi to her, and seem genuine. Sometimes they say hi to her first, sometimes she notices them first.
But carrying these friendships outside of school? It can be hard. The last birthday invitation I remember her getting was at the end of the summer before the start of 4th grade. And the one before that was at the beginning of 3rd grade.
I know that as kids get older the invitations don't come as often as they seem to arrive in Kindergarten and 1st grade. In those early grades invitations are being sent to everyone in the classroom. By 3rd grade kids become more selective with their invitations. And I understand that.
Before this school year started 3 families moved in on our street with 3 kids in each family. Among those kids are 4 eleven year olds. They seemed to always be hanging out together this summer and I have to admit it did hurt my heart a little bit that my own 11 year old was not part of that group and simply does not fit in with them. They all started 6th grade, middle school, this year and Kayla is in elementary school being in 5th grade. She repeated Kindergarten so she could have been in middle school this year with those kids. I've been told that I really don't want her hanging out with a couple of them anyway, but besides that I just kept thinking, but she is 11, she should be in that 'group.'
Besides that group there are at least 4 other ten year olds on this street who are another 'core' group of friends. They all know Kayla since they go to school together, some have been in her classes, and they ride the bus together. They are friendly, but it's not like they come down to our house looking for Kayla to come out.
Carrying over the friendships from school can be hard, too. Kayla will often talk about certain students that she likes, plays with at recess, or sees at lunch ... but how do you bridge that gap to after school? How do I get her together with those friends?
Since I grew up on military bases I think it was easier to just 'hang out' after school and on the weekends. It was easy to find out where everyone lived and we were were all in walking distance of each other. We walked to school, to our friends' houses, to Youth Center, the Bowling Alley.
The civilian community is different. Kayla doesn't know, or think, to ask for exchanging phone numbers. Parents have to coordinate schedules and dropping off/picking up at homes etc. People are busier now than they were when we were growing up.
Since Kayla's birthday is in the summer I have been sending a note in near the end of the school year for the kids she seems most connected to asking for their address so she can mail them an invitation over the summer. This has worked fairly well, but there isn't much interaction beyond that. I know I have to help facilitate getting together, and I have tried. I wonder if the other kids think of Kayla as a 'school friend' but she doesn't come to mind 'out of school' if that makes sense.
One of her teachers told me that they are seeing the social gap widening more this year with Kayla and the other girls. They are talking about things like boys and boyfriend/girlfriend (and I want to cover my ears and say no! It's still elementary school!) and Kayla still likes to talk about things like ... Frozen.
Kayla loves having friends over, but conversationally it can be hard. It can be hard for her to keep up, especially with random, abstract things that kids just talk about. When she does have a friend over all Kayla really wants to do is play dress-up. She wants to dress-up and act out scenes.
I'm thankful for all the kids who are friendly to her, I am, but there is a difference with being friendly and having a true friendship and I just see Kayla struggling in that area.
I'm not sure what, if anything, I can even do to help her bridge that gap. It may be a gap that can't be bridged. I just know that developing friendships with same-age peers seems to be getting harder.
This isn't true for all people with Down syndrome, it's just our truth right now.