Watching their hair blow in the wind and their small bodies bounce with the waves, I stare at them instead of the beautiful desert mountains surrounding the lake. I am caught up in emotion watching Ryan sit close to his best friend, William at the front of the boat. There has never been a different answer to the question, “who is your best friend?” Since he could answer it, it was William. They met in pre-school and quickly showed interest in each other. I have learned the life lesson that you can count real friends on one hand, but for someone who has trouble with social skills, even one friend is an oasis in the desert. So, I clung like a life preserver to William and his mom, and did all I could to foster Ryan’s first and only friend.
William doesn’t suffer from autism; he has a chromosomal issue that is very rare and has caused him some developmental delays. I honestly don’t see the delays, and I think he is the cutest thing I have ever seen, next to my own. William is gregarious and silly and outrageously funny. When I met his mom, Jess, I decided instantly we were going to be friends.
Jess, and Rich have invited us to their lake house for a few days. We have spent many evenings at their house, poolside, celebrating the boys respective birthdays or just family barbeques. It’s tough to meet another couple and like both of them, plus meet a family who can handle Ryan’s issues—even welcome him. And even though they don’t have the same set of issues, being under the umbrella of a family with a special needs child is comforting. So we happily accepted the invite.
“Can I jump in, Dad?” William asks Rich as he slows down the boat.
“Sure!” Rich says with enthusiasm. Jenna and William’s older brother, Tyler, quickly jump up to the side of the boat and leap in the gleaming water.
“Come on Ryan.” Williams turns to Ryan, who is standing back looking cautiously at the water.
“It’s okay. Watch me.” William says and leaps off the side. Ryan watches as William comes up and laughs happily.
“Go on bud, jump in.” I say to him. He hesitates for another second and then climbs up to the seat and bounds off. His head doesn’t go under as he lands in the water, keeping his hair dry.
“Hey! How did you do that?” Tyler asks in amazement. Ryan doesn’t answer him, he is swimming after William with a huge smile on his face.
“Mom, did you see that?” Tyler yells from the water.
“Yes! Wasn’t that cool? Ryan, that was awesome!” Jess says smiling. She turns to me, “how did he do that?”
“He always does that. I don’t know how…” I turn to watch them playing. I feel a swell of pride at something that Ryan can do that the others can’t. “His swim coach said that is a life-saving technique she learned, to keep your eye on your victim. It’s supposed to be really hard to do.” I am smiling so hard, the back of my head starts to hurt.
“I think he is kicking his feet before he hits the water.” I trail off my thought as I realize I should stop gushing about Ryan’s silly “ trick”, but the look in Jess’ eyes reminds me she knows how to appreciate all the things our kids can do.