Valentine's Day Is for Our Special Needs Kids Too!

Here in the Midwest winter has finally come upon us, as I stare out of my window and look at the snow-blanketed ground that has now essentially frozen over with the drop into single digit temperatures. This makes the several months following the Christmas season especially difficult, save for a few holidays that add a little color and joy to the environment, and while I will dare to include the Super Bowl here, I am more specifically referring to Valentine’s Day. Although it is an easy holiday to dismiss as something that has become just another commercial excuse to spend money on chocolates and flowers, it does allow for an opportunity to acknowledge the people we love and care about.


Beyond our marriages and adult relationships, our children have their own brand of parties and valentines exchanges in school, and these I feel are by now a pretty typical formula: buy a box of cards, help your kids sign them, and done. It never affected me much all of the years my child was in the younger grades, and having also taught those grades for years I never really thought twice about it, but now that my son is in fifth grade, and he’s nearing that junior high timeframe, I wonder if it may begin to mean more. Is it possible that my son could not only have a crush on a young lady, but that it’s actually ok for him to have a “Valentine”?

I think we can all agree on the importance of meaningful relationships in our child’s lives, but it also seems that those feelings frequently default to us only believing that those would be friendships and nothing more. Our former pastor would frequently remark on the three main forms of love from ancient Greek culture: eros, philia and agape, and the importance each carries in our lives. We certainly want our kids to have the agape love that relates to their connection to God and charity and goodwill for mankind as a whole, and we definitely want them to develop deep and lasting philia-style friendships, but what about romantic love?

My wife and I have spoken to many parents of young adults with special needs, and all of them were at the very least supportive of their children pursuing it if it’s something they wanted. They obviously need to be of a certain level of independence and ability to maintain a healthy relationship on that level, but to deny their desire for it would also be lacking on our part as well. We have met a few parents with adult children who have shown they can be successful at doing just that, and at the very least, acknowledge that they may be curious about it and have relevant questions that need an answer.

Our family had its own experience of this a couple of years ago when my wife and son were driving to one of his numerous therapy appointments, and a program about dating came onto the local Christian radio station. My son, who is non-verbal, began to make a variety of happy squealing sounds during the show, and my wife, curiously asked him, “What, do you want a girlfriend?” to which she got another happy squealing response, and then my wife probed him a little further, “Do you have a girlfriend?” and when she received the same response she asked him later on to spell her name out on the communication app he has on his Ipad, and so he spelled the name “HONY.” In phoenetical terms, he of course meant to say “Honey,” the problem though being that we had no idea if there was a student with that name in either his general education or special needs classroom and there wasn’t.

After several months of chewing on who it could be, my wife finally came up with the name of the girl, and while it wasn’t “Honey,” we realized that our son may have made that connection after hearing a teacher or two using that name in place of hers as in “Honey, don’t touch that,” “Here, honey, like this,” “Take this, honey,” and so forth. So from then on we would lovingly refer to the girl as Honey in our family, and as we would ask our son about his day, there would be a question about her sprinkled in once in a while. Then one day my wife used his app to ask the question, “Do you want Honey to come for a playdate?” to which the answer not surprisingly, was yes

So a couple of months ago it finally happened, as Honey made her way with her mom into our home on a Saturday evening, and we treated for a whole pizza spread as our two lovebirds had their long awaited playdate. What exactly did it look like you ask? Well, I would tell you that it was the epitome of innocence and cuteness, as my mostly non-verbal son, who enjoys being around other kids but is not really social, just played a lot by himself really. His date did much of the same, helping herself to some of his toys, specifically a Thomas the Train flashlight she was really enamored with. Pizza was enjoyed by both, and if they had one thing in common it’s that they both eat on the run, preferring to not partake in the confinement of a table and chairs, but otherwise they seemed very happy. All three parents had a lovely opportunity to visit and share what we loved about our kids, the experiences they were having in school together, and just life in general, and then the evening came to a very happy ending.

The experience I just described might not be the way that our typical children wind up having their first attempt at dating, as maybe some of the same elements are there, but essentially this just wound up being like any other play date, fairly easy, with no drama or issues. I realize that dating and eventually meeting someone is more complicated than any old playdate, however I think I kinda like it this way for now, as many of the anxieties and struggles that kids have at this age and moving forward may not be there for my son, as he may wind up seeing spending time with his friends or “special friend” is just that, time to be enjoyed with another person that he enjoys being with. I know for certain though, that he is as deserving as anyone of love and being loved, and if that one unique soul comes into his life, I would fully support the opportunity for him to be with her, even splurging for the pizza again and letting Thomas blow his whistle all night.

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