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One of my earliest prayers for Penny was that she would have
friends. Back then, when she was an infant, I hadn’t read the studies that said
many individuals with intellectual disabilities experience depression as a
result of loneliness. I didn’t have statistics on hand that proved the need for
friendships as much as, if not more than, educational or vocational
opportunities. I just sensed that making friends would be harder for her than
for typical children. And so I prayed.
Since then, I’ve become all the more convinced that the
greatest struggle Penny will face is in the social sphere. Sure, she’ll have
learning difficulties and physical impediments and health concerns. But I
suspect that her need for friends will be her greatest challenge.
Part of the challenge arises because I don’t know how to
help her. When I was a kid, I ran around with other kids in our neighborhood. I
grew up in a 5,000 person town in North Carolina where the speed limit was 25
mph everywhere. (There were two stoplights on main street, but even there, I
remember a time when I was sitting in a car with my friend’s mom. The light was
red. She had the windows rolled down and chatted with someone else on the
sidewalk. The light turned green and she kept talking. It turned red again. We
drove at the next green.) The pace was slow and the town was safe and most
everything and everybody was within walking distance. The older kids played
with the younger ones because there weren’t that many of us. Even for a
bookworm like me, it was easy to have people to play with all the time.