I used to be good at guessing the ages of other people’s children, but I think I’ve somehow lost that ability since Connor was born. The little guy is in a preschool for children with special needs and there aren’t a whole lot of small children in our neighborhood, so I don’t see a whole lot of typical kids his age. Every once in a while I’ll get to chatting with another mom at the playground or the grocery store, and we’ll discover our kids are the same age. And I’ll take a look at their child and think “Oh. So that’s what a four year old usually looks like. Huh.”
It used to be that I could largely ignore the differences between Connor's development and that of typical children because the gap wasn't that glaringly obvious. Now that he's almost five, though, that's no longer possible. When you have a child who is still working on things like rolling over and eating solid food when most children their age are doing things like learning to write and memorizing their days of the week, I think there’s some necessary protective distancing that goes on in a parent's mind. The differences between Connor and other children his age are glaringly obvious, and the last thing I want to do is make him feel inadequate or like I’m disappointed in him because I’m comparing him to other children all the time. I don’t deny the fact that he’s different from other kids his age; I just don’t want to make that difference an issue.
I’m not consciously making a decision to isolate him from other children; actually we do tend to seek out other kids his age on the playground. But children his age typically see Connor as much, much younger than he really is because of his tiny size and how he behaves, and so they engage him in ways that they wouldn’t react to their more typical peers. He doesn’t seem to mind; in fact, he doesn’t seem to care right now one way or the other, as he’s still not really figured out cooperative play. He’ll watch the other kids his age on the playground, but he expresses absolutely no desire to join in, and oftentimes he’ll actually pull back and refuse to participate if he’s included in a game or given direct attention. He’s very reserved by nature anyway, and it’s only after six months or so that he will interact with the children in his classroom—let alone kids we meet in random encounters. Sometimes I worry about how this will make him feel as he grows older, but he's perfectly happy and satisfied with the interactions that happen in his comfort zone, and I'm not going to make him miserable right now by forcing him to participate in cooperative play when he's not ready.
So on our occasional play dates with typical children I’ll try and set up some activity that everyone can do—like painting or sand table play-- and I’ll do my best to make sure that Connor gets to participate just as much as the other children, even if they might as well be on different planets for all he cares. I won’t pretend that I’m not startled and secretly a little sad every once in a while when I hear another four year old make a joke or see them follow complex instructions with ease, but most of the time I’m able to shut that out and just see Connor for who he is: a kid making his way in the world the best way he knows how.
Just like the rest of them.
You can find Jess every day over at Connor's Song